The smartphone is both a blessing and a bane of our modern existence. I'd be a hypocrite if I said I never used my mobile phone or didn't find it useful, but then again, I use it far less than the average American. Mobile devices are taking over our daily lives and draining society of whatever shred of social skills and human connectivity we still have left. Everywhere you go, someone is sitting or walking while staring at a tiny screen. And that's more than a little sad and pathetic--it's downright scary.
One of the pleasures of watching a movie or TV show that was made or takes place before the 1990s is the absence of mobile devices. Of course, sci-fi enthusiasts and technology makers always fantasized about using phones where you could see the person you were speaking to, and wearing watches that doubled as communication devices. How cool we thought that would be! Now that that George Jetson fantasy is here, the reality of our situation seems far less sweet. Nothing is worse than someone using their phone in a movie theater, church, or during an intimate live performance of a play or concert. Actually, something is worse--texting/scrolling on mobile devices has caused car accidents and people to walk aimlessly off subway platforms (the jury's still out, I guess, on whether mobile phones cause cancer, but I remember meeting one guy in a meetup group who worked for a mobile phone company and insisted that they did.)
I'm old enough to remember when mobile phones first started to permeate society and I still remember the first clunky model I purchased in the 1990s. When they could only function as a phone, all was fine and dandy. Even when engineers were able to whittle down shoebox sized mobile phones into the flip variety that fit in your pocket, they still didn't annoy me, despite my crossing paths with the occasional dolt who would shout into them in a public place or use them in the restroom while taking a whiz. There was no need to keep the phone out and in front of our faces during every waking hour.
No, the moment we became doomed was when the internet, texting capabilities, games, and recording devices were incorporated into mobile phones. Now no one can go 5 minutes without scrolling that screen. It's gotten so bad that some people leave them on all night, and even check them when they get up to use the bathroom--a common scenario that Arianna Huffington addressed on the Ellen show, advising people to turn off their phones and put them away when they retire for the night, lest they jeopardize getting enough sleep. Can people really not resist checking their phones at ungodly hours?
A friend of mine was surprised to learn recently that I don't keep my mobile phone turned on 24 hours a day and on some days, I don't turn it on at all. When I was working, I only turned it on during the weekends or at night if I'm leaving the house to meet with someone who may need to reach me. Now that I'm job hunting, I leave it on during the day since my mobile number is the one I provide on my resume but at night, it still gets powered down. Even my laptop--which is getting a lot more usage these days since I've been out of work--can really get to me after a few hours. I have to take frequent breaks from it or I'll go nuts.
I follow a dating coach's blog, and his rallying cry that is often repeated for both single men and women is that they absolutely must refrain from using their mobile devices if they have any hope of connecting with someone attractive they may meet while out and about. How can you expect to meet anybody if you're constantly connected to a device that makes you oblivious to all of your surroundings?
What's even more disturbing to me is the next incarnation of mobile devices: wearable tech, such as Google Glass. Google Glass recently got a San Francisco woman into a lot of trouble, when she wore them to a bar and her annoyed fellow patrons started intimidating her and trying to snatch them off her face. Well, what did she expect walking around looking like a cyborg, wearing a contraption that can record people's every move and word without their knowledge? Thanks to her poor judgment, we have a snappy new term that aptly describes a person who converses with their Google Glass instead of the outside world: glasshole.
Is it a great thing that we have so many useful tools and apps packed into a small gadget that essentially holds our entire life? I still think so--but I think people need to use them more wisely. Get off the grid more frequently. Turn them off more often, don't use them so much when you're supposed to be paying attention to other people and for crying out loud, stop staring at one when you're walking down the street. Otherwise, I won't bother warning you about the open manhole you're about to walk into.