Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How are mobile phones changing how we understand ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we do things?

I was thinking about the impacts of communications technology, particularly mobile phones this week, and how in many ways they have transformed our daily lives. Two vignettes from this past week:

Before our bible study last Thursday, our host showed us a video of a man who was glued to his phone, even while he was walking. There was a point in the video when he actually looked up from his phone to ask directions from a young woman. Eventually, the two got married and a series of significant scenes from their wedding to the birth of their first grandchild were shown. Then the video rewound to the point where he met the woman, but this time instead of looking up, he kept looking down at his phone, and they never met. The lesson is obvious that we may actually be letting our lives pass us by, which is of course one of the negative consequences of being constantly "connected" (although we often do not think about to whom or to what we are connecting ourselves to).

On Sunday, as I was sitting at Baxter Theatre on my laptop, a man approached me and asked if he could use the plug point to charge his mobile phone. As he was waiting for it to charge we started chatting, and he started discussing his work which entails supplying diesel to African countries, often for military purposes, mainly in central and eastern Africa. He was able to do all of these transactions using only a mobile phone, and can essentially run his business from anywhere with reception. His clients, similarly, could become "powerful" men he said by merely possessing a smartphone, which enabled them to order anything they wanted from anywhere in the world.

As with any tool, mobile phones can be used for good or bad purposes, but particularly with information and communication technologies, there is something so powerful and personal about how they have impacted our lives and the ways that we interact. Part of the reason that I resisted getting a smartphone for several years was because I did not want to become too dependent on any device, but three years after getting my first smartphone, I feel "naked" or very conscious of its absence when I am not carrying it. As the movie Her beautifully depicted, nowadays it almost does not seem so farfetched for a man to fall in love with an operating system, which can be communicated with everywhere using phones, computers, etc.

Part of the reason mobile phones have become so integral to our everyday lives is because they enable us to communicate and share special occasions with friends and family, anywhere or anytime, which is truly incredible, but at what expense to living and experiencing the present moment? The social media explosion, facilitated by mobile phones, has impacted the way people experience experiences. We often think in the back of our minds of how great this photo will look on Facebook or of how we should "live tweet" this event, and we are encouraged to do so with hashtags galore. What should we share though, and what should we just keep to ourselves?

Going back to the theme of connection, as Brené Brown discusses so earnestly, it is something most people yearn for, and mobile phones have enabled us to do so with people around the world--and that is a good thing. But, there are times when we need to disconnect ourselves from the world around us, and center ourselves, reflect, and enjoy the present moment that we are living in with the people who are in front of us. Striking that balance between staying connected with the world and with ourselves is not easy, but I will say some good ground rules would be:

  1. Do not keep your phone on the table at dinner or check it unless you are waiting for a friend who is late, and kindly ask that friend to try not to rely on a cell phone to tell you that he/she is going to be late! Especially if he/she is habitually late. Get a watch friend (and not a Pebble ;-)! 
  2. Turn your phone on silent before you go to bed. 
  3. Set boundaries for when people can contact you, unless it is an emergency. 
  4. Put the phone down sometimes or leave it at home when it is a short excursion or you are not expecting anyone to contact you.
Aside: I was lucky enough to meet the author of Me and My Cellphone at a friend's bridal shower, which is now on my to read list!

Related articles:
Love me, Love My Cell Phone
Do Cell Phones Drain Your Happiness?
Cell Phone Attachment and Etiquette

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