How Smart Phones Make You Socially Dumb (or please don’t read this on your iPhone)

Sometimes I feel like my fiance and I are the last two people in New York City (or even the entire US) without smart phones. Even the scant few of our friends that were old flip phone hold outs now worship at the altar of iPhone. Sure,  much like I finally had to trade my cassette tape tower (that thing was cool) in for CDs and then MP3s, I will have to eventually have give up the ghost and get some sort of smart phone too. But until then I’ll let myself feel slightly superior (it is of course partly out of envy that I have to make myself feel better about my perpensity/financial necessary for older technology)

Faculty at the  Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design at Tel Aviv University,been studying smart-phone users relative to their old-school, flip-phone counterparts. And the difference between the two groups they found to be  surprisingly vast. ” Smart-phone users are much more commonly under the illusion that they have privacy even when walking down a public sidewalk. They’re less skittish about having personal conversations in public. They’re more detached from their physical surroundings.”  Unsurprisingly, when they asked smartphone users about a place that had just visited, they were far less likely to remember anything about it.

Their conclusion being this is a bad omen for society as people isolate and lock themselves in their own private worlds (and view the public world as   inconsequential) and stop interacting with strangers (no need to ask for directions when you can google it), or the people they are with.

That last bit is my biggest pet peeve–even above getting stuck behind a slow-walking screen tapper (giving them their own lane isn’t a bad idea, but they probably would be too distracted to stay in it). Pretty much every single smart phone owner that I’ve encountered has been guilty of this to some degree: paying attention to your little glowing screen when there’s a living breathing person in front of you.

I don’t care what the name of that actor was, let’s just continue with our conversation. No one needs you to live tweet what’s happening or cares what grocery store check in at on FourSquare. Just talk to the person you are with, or take your headphones out and listen to what’s going on around you, or stand in line, wait for the show to start, wait for the bus, without constantly distracting yourself. Be comfortable with being alone with your own thoughts, making conversation, or being uncomfortably silent. (four years ago I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned the outside world has more to offer than anything on a screen–I still think that’s true).

Sure it would be nice to be able to look up an address or movie time when I’m out and about, but by and large I am happy to have many  unconnected moments of my life, and I have never once found myself wondering what was happening on Facebook when I was talking to a real life person.

via. the Atlantic


4 responses

  1. My husband recently brought me into the iPhone world, but I do have to say I try to remember my manners when with others. It drives me crazy when I haven’t seen someone in person for months, then meet them for dinner, during which they spend the entire time texting other people. I feel like if they don’t want to hang out with me, then don’t hang out; meeting me and spending the whole time looking at the phone is so rude! I like the convenience of looking things up on the iPhone and some of the apps are really helpful, but it definitely has the potential to isolate a person – by their choice, of course. I can choose to put the phone up and play with my toddler, or I can let him play independently while I play with my phone. It’s all about balance, and common courtesy.

  2. I totally agree with you. I had a flip phone then a basic keypad phone through a family plan. We only ever had them because the landline phones we’re more expensive to have long distance and local calls. The way companies have marketed the cell phones, they’re cheaper and come with the better deal.

    Well now that the family plan is over and done with (and seeing how my own cell phone usage proved itself to be distracting to me in the past) I looked into getting a landline. It was still more expensive than a pay-as-you-go monthly cell phone. So I got my first smartphone a couple months ago.


    I could live without it. It’s created to make people focused on it. Everything the world has to see is apparently right there on a tiny screen. For about a month I became obsessed with my smartphone. And I turned into more of a robot than ever before, so much so that all the years of cell phone usage and past Facebook use piled up on me and I became sick to death of…myself.

    I began to really miss the 1980’s where none of this crap was even necessary. And you know what? In the grand scheme of things, it still isn’t.

    I have chosen to take Facebook off my phone and also leave my stupid smartphone at home when I go out. No, we don’t need them when we’re running errands. If we use our brain (something the phones attempt to replace) we can sufficiently plan our day, notify the proper people, and rely on voice mail waiting for us when we get home.

    Yes, I still have my smartphone. But I have chosen to treat it as I would any regular phone. I see where society has gone with the robotic, disoriented, apathetic people the overabundance of technology has created. I can’t stop it. All I can do is change me. And if we would all do that, the world would return to a more simple and intelligent place.

    1. kathleenerindavis | Reply

      true! I really really don’t want to get one. My husband and I still have super old flip phones (mine is about 8 years old). They are on their last legs. When they die I guess we will be forced to get smartphones.. but maybe I will follow your lead and leave it at home 🙂

  3. […] know that I’m far from the first person to realize this. When I railed against smartphones effect on social interaction over a year, I lamented how the devices can turn you into a less empathic person who inadvertently makes […]

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