My friend Emily (not this Emily, sorry!) and I are hanging out in my living room, watching a movie. She's on the fabulous purple chaise while I'm sprawled in the green chair, Leila mumbling to herself somewhere in the corner of the room. It's a pretty typical Monday night for my house, complete with the smell of dinner hovering in the air and a round of focaccia cooling on the counter.
We rented this movie for the express purpose of making fun of it, so we're talking through it, but it's not just that; I'm violating my usual rule of not using my phone around my friends to check my email because I'm waiting for something important. She's doing the same, for the same reason.
When I was in New York waiting for my service to switch between providers, I was at one point carrying around three different phones. And checking all of them regularly.
I was at the river with a friend over the weekend when we started discussing the history of the blow job and I grabbed my phone to check an etymology dictionary and then got distracted on a twenty minute digression of historic slang terms for genitalia. (You're welcome.) Somehow I didn't feel absurd sprawling naked on a river bank scrolling through my phone; instead, it felt like a natural extension of me.
“Man, what did we do without smart phones?” my friend said.
Carry pocket OEDs, I guess?
Somehow, I'd become dependent on my smartphone. And yes, I do get nervous when I'm without it. Think of the email I'm missing, the breaking news I'm late on. The plans being made without me.
It's the first thing I check in the morning, the last thing I check at night. As soon as the flight attendant gives the all-clear when we hit the ground, I'm among the information-starved hordes snapping my phone out of airplane mode, cheered by the reassuring chimes of incoming emails and texts. I check it in line at the grocery store. If I'm out with friends and I have a reason to be away from the table (I don't usually stoop to using it in company), I'll discreetly pull it out for a quick gander.
The thought of leaving my house without my phone makes me edgy, as does surrendering it at venues or having to turn it off for something. Even if it's something like a massage, which would be better enjoyed without the impending threat of an incoming transmission: something which, after all, could probably wait for an hour anyway without the world ending.
How have I reached this point? More to the point, how has my generation reached this point, where we're so desperate for contact through our phones that we're disconnected from the physical world around us and the people in it? Apparently there's even a term for this: nomophobia.
Even as I try to enforce strict rules (no answering or sending work emails on weekends, one I only stick to intermittently; only answer the phone when I'm out with friends if it's an emergency; try not to use the phone in bed so damn much), I despair at society. Nearly 20% of 18-34-year-olds are using their phones during sex. Sexytimes: U R DOIN' IT RONG, dudes. Heck, nearly ¾ of us are within 5 five of our phones most of the time...I say, looking at my phone sitting six inches away from my hand.
This is, of course, great news for the mobile industry, which is undoubtedly quivering in delight at the extent of market penetration it's been able to achieve in a relatively short period of time. Remember when cell phones were novel? It really wasn't that long ago. How about when the introduction of cameras was kind of a big deal? Let alone smartphones and the advent of mobile internet wherever we went? This is still such new stuff, for the most part, that the etiquette books can't even keep up.
And yet here we are becoming fiercely attached to all this technology without really exploring the hidden consequences. I don't want to sound all luddite here; I just freely admitted that I use, love, and rely on my smartphone. It's an important part of my life, necessary for work and very helpful in my daily life (after all, five years ago if I'd needed to look up some word origins during a heated debate at the river I'd have had to wait until I was back at home!).
But I do sometimes worry about my own depth of attachment as well as society's in general. I froth at the mouth when I see people texting and driving with no care as to who might be around them, I walk out on “friends” who insist on talking on the phone the whole time that we're supposed to be socializing, I try to remind myself and others that we should be present with each other, not our technology.
At the same time that technology can be an amazing bridge for bringing people together -- ugh, who else remembers using a calling card to call family in college? -- it can also be a great distancing technique, too. And I see that happening a lot with people who are terrified to jump off the diving board and leave their phones behind for a little while. I promise, the water is fine, and you won't regret it.