Sorry, but I like my phone a little better than you

4666140801_393890e5fd_mWhen you get involved in online communication, it’s very easy to quickly reach a point where you are communicating with people all of the time. Multitasking has become the new “must” skill, and much of our multitasking talents are used for entertaining chatter while we are working, doing homework, cooking, or even driving. Despite this 24/7 communication online or via text messages, however, our willingness to relate to real people in the moment, face-to-face, is dwindling. All of the signs point to it.

This was first brought to my attention by Ellen Bremen (aka @ChattyProf). Ellen is a communications professor, and as such she has undertaken a seemingly simple experiment. She invites her students to “fast” from social media and texting for three days. The only way you’re allowed to communicate with people is in-person or via the phone. Old-fashioned ways. Ellen’s students, who range in ages, almost universally struggled with this task. In this intriguing #HecklersHangout chat I co-hosted with Brian Vickery, Ellen talks about students who told her, “When I met my friends in person, we couldn’t really talk. We didn’t know how to relate.” Students accused her of making them doubt how real their friendships were. Many, unable to coordinate outings, ended up feeling more isolated and more alone than they ever had before.

This is not just mythology, but we don’t talk about these new complexities outright. What I do notice is that when friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time get together, they post pictures of their meal to Facebook. They post pictures of themselves to Instagram. And as people comment, they continue to reply. I often picture a table with two friends (or more) who were looking forward to seeing each other…maybe, sort of…sitting with their heads down, fingers tapping away. Maybe they talk about a comment their tagged picture got. They are bringing their online means of connection into the “real” world, but they are not really engaging with each other in meaningful ways. We see this all the time, but we don’t comment on why this happens. No one ever says, “Don’t you want to put your phone away and talk to that friend?”

I wonder if I’m the only one thinking it.

Even more disturbing is a trend that Sherry Turkle points out in Alone Together. Numerous children in her study report that as they get into their parents’ cars after school, their parent may not even look up from the phone, or the parent might give that now common wave. “Give me just a minute, I’m finishing this.” One teen Turkle quotes notes that she waits for the time that her mom picks her up and says, “Hi, how was your day.” At the same time, the teen notes that her mom will never change. The phone will never leave. Indeed, Turkle even tells the account of a man who becomes infatuated with his Second Life wife. He texts to her, essentially committing a new kind of adultery, while pushing his child on a swing with the other hand.

Children, according to Turkle, do not ignore these moments when they want to engage with their parents but are placed as a second priority to their parents’ emails, social media, or texting. One son notes that he and his dad used to watch football games together and it was a great time to bond. Now the dad is buried in his phone and they barely talk to each other. This leaves children, in real life, feeling abandoned. It opens them up to the idea that maybe real-life connections aren’t as reliable, or as predictable, as online connections. If we are talking about how we turn each other into robots in the world of social media, we can see how we are creating a generation of potentially very confused young people.

We all are tied to our phones because of work these days. We all are getting more email than we can handle. But we need to take a moment to weigh a 20-minute lag in responding to an email versus losing a connection with people we love. Is that email or text really worth that? This may seem dramatic, but I do not believe it’s overstating the fact. Over time, we are sending the message, “This is more important than my time with you.”

We don’t want to do that. Do we?

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ubiqua/4666140801/ via Creative Commons

16 comments
FrankLovett
FrankLovett

Improve your soccer game! Soccer is the most popular game in this world and soccer strikers are referred to the players that often scores goals in the game.

Spafloating
Spafloating

I do not "smart phone" or text..just not smart for me. It is not okay to give the impression that this is living.

BrothersCat
BrothersCat

It never ceases to amaze and at the same time infuriate me when I see texters and social media checkers missing real time life. There they are walking down the street oblivious to the gifts the universe is holding out to them, seeing only what is back lit by their omnipresent screen.

How people can pay good money for tickets to a sporting event than miss the home run or hat trick because their  gaze was fixated on the screen in their lap, I'll never understand.

I am at the opposite end of the spectrum. My phone is buried deep in the crevices of my purse and by the time I find it I've usually missed the call - yes, the call, not the text. People know not to text me because I won't respond. It takes too long to type on my six year old flip phone!

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

I am so in agreement with you @margieclayman !  This is an issue that makes me crazy.  So much so that I make it an obvious point to put my phone away when I am with cherished people so that I am not distracted and can give them my full attention.  In full disclosure, I am a digital nerd.  I post, I text, I email and tweet with the best of them.  My adult children who live far away from me are in constant texting communication so that we have ongoing conversations.  BUT, when I am with anyone in person, all digital forms of communication get put away and I am all theirs ( and I hope for the same respect from them).  I confess that I have shared the occasional bonfire photo that I am experiencing with my sweetie but, generally, the rule is we are together....there is no room for digital intrusion.

Great post Margie!

douglaserice
douglaserice

This is a really tough issue. I am internally divided on it.

 

On the one hand, digital connectivity has amplified my ability to connect with real flesh-and-blood human beings. On the other hand, I like everyone else experience that constant pull to check notifications and reply to people online. Early in my social media days, I took my phone out everywhere I went. My wife and I would be shopping and she'd ask my opinion on something, but I would be checking my Twitter feed. Needlessly to say, she wasn't too fond of that behavior. I have since weaned myself off of my obsession--at least to that extent.

 

It all boils down to whether we are mastering the technology or whether it is mastering us. I know that sounds cliche and probably isn't all that helpful, but I think it's true. I do think it's a huge problem with young children and teenagers, though. The impressions and culture expectations we form early on in life tend to stick with us. I'm not so sure I'm comfortable with bringing a generation whose members cannot look at one another in the eyes. 

 

Like I said, it's a tough issue. I've got a lot of research to do on it...

prosperitygal
prosperitygal

Yup, Margie those are the folks I do not go out to dinner with again or to the museum.  

 

People for years before tech came along, used excuses to not do the right thing.  Now they have a new excuse.

 

Same song different dance.

Latest blog post:

geekbabe
geekbabe

My kids are older but I sure am guilty of having my eyes & attention on an electronic device when I should be making an actual connection with a live person trying to speak to me. As usual you've provided great food for thought here!

SusanGiurleo1
SusanGiurleo1

Sherri Turkle and I got into a kerfuffle at a conference once. She has some rather strong personal feelings about technology that color her work, IMHO. That said, I don't know these people she talks about and I'm of the parenting age and sort. No one I know is picking their kid up, phone in hand or standing on the sidelines at soccer field texting. And I'm not a hermit. I work with many families in my business and none of them are buried in tech either. Sure, there are cell phones in my waiting area  and teens get texts while we chat, but they know how to set limits, tell friends they are busy and will text later.  Yes, occasionally I see the rude person surfing Facebook while at dinner in the restaurant or teens doing parallel texting, but not that frequently, I'm not sure this love of the phone is as bad as we fear. In my experience, the rude, overfocus on the phone is the exception, not the rule.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @SusanGiurleo1 Paradoxically, I think you need to look online, not offline, to see it. Consider how many people post pictures while cuddling with their kids or while at anniversary dinners. That's what I am basing my own sentiment on. I've witnessed a lot of what she is talking about. 

SusanGiurleo1
SusanGiurleo1

 @margieclayman But I think that is  a small subset of the world at large. The average parent and teen/college student isn't that immersed. Sure it is there,but not at the high levels one might see at MIT. When you study such phenomenon you need to be careful of your sample. If we only look online or at MIT  the sample is self-selected. But if we head out into random settings, school pick up at 20 different schools for example. You'll see a broader range of behavior.   Also, one picture at a dinner doesn't imply the whole family is glued to the screen for hours or eating with the phone in their lap.  I see nothing wrong with snapping a pic of my kid as we head out for a bike ride and posting it. That's one minute in the course of hours we spend together. Again, the obsession exists for some, but not at epidemic levels in my observation.  We need studies that are broader based and more diverse in sample demographics.

chattyprof
chattyprof

 @SusanGiurleo1  @douglaserice  @margieclayman I am late to this conversation and first want to thank you, Margie, for adding me to the post and my students' work. I witness every single thing that Margie is talking about and over three terms now, I have piles of research papers where students are very blunt about their use and use in their families. I read some excerpts of the papers in #HecklersHangout. Margie is sadly dead-on. In my opinion, this is not a small subset of the population, but is becoming completely acceptable behavior without a view of consequences.

 

I am a parent of two young children, 9 and 5. I absolutely see parents glued to their phones during pickup from school, at the park, and during activities. I'm not saying that this is at the expense of their children--I can't know that for sure--but my college students definitely report that they feel they have compete for their parents' attention. Then they start those same habits.

 

My mom friends love texting because they don't feel they are "distracting" their time with their children as much as if they were on the phone. It drives me insane--our kids need to see us talking to people even on the phone! 

 

I am not dogmatic like Sherry Turkle, but I do think her message is incredibly important. What scares me is that there does not seem to be enough balance between appropriate real life interaction and mediated interaction. My students bluntly tell me that they don't want to talk to people because they can't "edit" themselves and they are learning via FB and texting that edited conversations are fine. Everyone's doing it, right? But I am trying desperately to teach them that a) there is a time and place where they won't be able to edit themselves and how will they practice without authentic interactions; and b) conversations can and should sometimes be un-pretty... and that's how we learn about ourselves and others.

 

Thanks, again, Margie. These are critical discussions.

Ellen

SusanGiurleo1
SusanGiurleo1

 @douglaserice  @margieclayman For what it's worth, I saw Turkle at a small gathering of psychotherapists and was very interested in her viewpoint. However 15 minutes into her talk she started ranting and raving (no exaggeration) about how awful Twitter and Facebook are and brought in a great deal of her personal experiences into the room. She was ANGRY (red faced, ranting. It was disturbing, actually) about students who Tweeted during her lectures. So I take all her work with a big grain of salt. Passionate about the data is one thing. Personalizing your experience and injecting it into the data is another.  I challenged her on her broad strokes of social media damnation. And, Margie, you know I did it nicely.  She had no composed reply. In all my years of working with researchers I've never seen someone so unprofessional.  This extreme attitude is not expressed in her book, but my hunch is in a small gather of folks who she didn't think understood research, she let her guard down.

douglaserice
douglaserice

 @margieclayman  @SusanGiurleo1 I think it can be very easy to get sucked into the anti-technology framework and use that as a heuristic for evaluating everything we see. I think there could be confirmation bias at work. I certainly notice the ONE person texting on his or her phone in a social gathering more than I notice the 9 other people who don't have their phones out. We often see the truth we're looking for. Just something I'm thinking about as I prepare to dig into Turkle's work...

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @SusanGiurleo1 Fair point. I've experienced it myself though. I went to a museum with a friend and she spent the whole time texting. Maybe my crowd is more tech-addicted than yours :) 

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