Is there anything more commonplace today than the irritating intrusion of mobile devices into every aspect of our lives? It’s hard to go anywhere and not see these things fused in the palms of hands. Whether at a cafe or restaurant, the gym or the park, people simply can’t disengage from their little screens. Many gyms post signs to tell clients that talking on their phones is not allowed. Of course, people ignore it.
It’s getting so bad that neck problems are emerging among (increasingly obese) teenagers as a result of constant texting. But it’s not just the predictable teenagers and herd mentality millennials who are hopelessly hooked to these glowing security blankets. Adults are just as vulnerable to the allure of the incoming text, call or email as their kids.
At a recent dinner, I noticed at every table around me that people from all age brackets were immersed in their phones. It was creepy. One young couple even had their phone propped up against a plate so their toddler could watch a movie. Another little boy was curled up in the corner of the booth mesmerized by whatever it was he was watching while mom and dad talked. Is this normal? Then there was the group of teenage girls to my right (the future leaders of America) all of whom were on their phones, updating their statuses, or whatever. Even when devices are not being used, they are placed on the table, right next to the plates with the forks and knives. Just in case…
The cell phone security blanket phenomenon demonstrates several things. First, and related to everything else, it reveals a widespread lack of manners. Bad manners have been normalized with the help of these devices. No longer is it to be expected that grown-ups (much less children) be fully present to the person in front of them. Putting him/her on hold while tending to the “all-important” call or status update is now seen as acceptable conduct. (It’s not.) It also shows a lack of self control. If I can’t bear not knowing who is calling or texting me right now, what does that say? Is the person I’m with so boring that I am justified in pausing them mid-sentence to see who else wants to talk to me? (And even if the other person isn’t a Brahmin Bill Buckley, who cares? Put away the phone and give him/her the respect they deserve!) When it comes to the constant updating of one’s status on social media, it also shows staggering levels of narcissism. To think that others care, or just have to know, that I’m waiting in line at the store to buy broccoli is a pretty sad commentary on many levels, if you ask me. The texting/mobile device culture also contributes to a lack of appreciation for commitments and sticking to them. Plans and engagements are no longer ever settled but are always in a state of flux, thanks to the convenient escape clause of an easy text message. If something better comes along, a previously committed to plan can be cancelled at the eleventh hour with the shooting off of a quick text.
The line we’re being sold (and the majority have apparently bought into it) is that we’re more connected now, thanks to these flashy devices and slick mediums for self-promotion. I think it’s just the opposite. More and more, society is becoming less present and respectful to those who are physically present to us and more withdrawn. It’s obvious to anyone, or at least it should be, that basic social skills are on the decline. Even the dinner table is no longer safe.
Sure, these devices have their uses, but I’m getting pretty tired of the whole thing. If as a society, we’ve lost any sense of balance, detachment and discipline, maybe it’s time to reexamine our reliance on mobile devices and stop allowing them to enable so many troubling neuroses. And while the grown-ups should be curtailing this disturbing trend among the younger generation, instilling habits of self-control and proper social mores, the truth is they are just as ensorcelled by the allure of the screen and incoming text as their kids. And so the cycle continues. Not a pretty picture.