In the last few years smartphones have become ubiquitous in society. Walking down the street its impossible not to see people wearing ear-buds. Sitting on public transit you would be blind not to notice that everyone around you has their eyes glued to whatever viral video or vine is popular at the moment. Well, either blind or immersed in that same video on your own phone.
These typical bland & innocuous observations out of the way I want to dig a little deeper than your average observational blogger might be wont to do. Now I gotta qualify what I say by pointing out that I tend to be a bit contrary and I will argue any position even if its to point out that the person I am arguing with hasn’t thought deeply enough about their point of view even if I share their point of view. Whatever, I’m a dick like that I guess. That said, the anti-smartphone sentiment has become fairly common Facebook bitching-fodder, and by default I am suspicious of any view which becomes the common man’s claim to intellectual discourse (see: atheism).
So, without any further ado…
The Zombie Apocalypse Redefined
One of the most common criticisms levied at smartphone zombies is that they are in fact the zombies slated to take over the world in the imminent zombie apocalypse.
Now I actually have a little bit of sympathy for this view, but only insofar as smartphone obsession is treated as an aspect of materialism and conspicuous consumption. This view was of course explored in Goerge A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead (1978), although I confess I have never watched it the full way through and thus such observations on my part are only hearsay.
However, when this zombie comparison is postulated reductively to suggest that anyone immersed in the virtual world is a zombie, I begin to take a bit of an issue. In a limited sense I agree: People being oblivious to what is going on around them can open them up to many hazards, but at the same time many of these hazards already exist even without smartphones. Take for example walking into traffic and getting hit by a car: There’s a lot of variables present in that event, including but not limited to, the amount of traffic, the condition of the vehicle, the speed of travel, the disposition/distraction level of the driver, the awareness and agility of the pedestrian, etc… But the witch-hunt for oblivious smartphone zombies assumes that someone on a smartphone is the prime cause for such an event. Taken more broadly, this seems to be the latest permutation of our society’s fascination and preoccupation with foisting all responsibility for a complex occurrence, inevitably brought about as a result of a multitude of factors, upon a single individual for expediency’s (and legal liability’s) sake. Taking a systems approach and looking at the broad range of causality is simply not done because it would force us to ask difficult questions about our obsolete infrastructure and the lunacy of manually-operated cars and trucks when safe, automated operation is a technological reality.
However, potential hazards notwithstanding, can an individual immersed in smartphone reality be accused of being a zombie? Not always.
You see, that way I figure it, a smartphone zombie is distinct from you average couch potato in two important regards: One is visibility. Whereas the couch potato immerses himself in his vice largely in private, the smartphone zombie engages in his smartphonery for all the world to see. Hence, in my opinion, the popular backlash.
The other distinction is that the smartphone zombie’s obsession is mitigated by the fact that his experience is not passive. Certainly its not active in the same way punching someone in the dick or having sex is active, but its certainly interactive. Even if its something as malignant as flaming a cancer patient’s support page, there is still more effort and thought being put into the endeavour than simply receiving a message. Hell, the greatest part about the internet, aside from access to the entire world, is the ability to leave your indelible mark on that world. And, with all those possibilities at someone’s fingertips suddenly me bitching about my day doesn’t seem all that interesting as a topic of discussion. Which brings me to my next point…
It Hurts to be Ignored
We’ve all hung out with someone who could not put their phone away for five seconds. It’s one of those things that becomes more insulting the more you dwell on it. You roll your eyes whenever their attention wanders from you to their phone or groan audibly whenever their phone beeps or vibrates. The feelings of rejection and unimportance inspired by occurrences like this are very real and are not diminished because you are being brushed aside for an object rather than a person.
Typically, I don’t get upset by stuff like this anymore because I try to keep two rules in mind:
Rule #1: “The responsibility for being understood belongs to the speaker; the responsibility for understanding belongs to the listener”
Let’s call this the prime directive of communication; obviously you can only influence your own actions in any direct, meaningful way, and since you play both the listener and the speaker in any given exchange, the responsibility for understanding is always yours. The upshot is that if you can’t communicate with someone who is absorbed with their smartphone then you are not coming at them effectively. Don’t waste time fretting about how “unnatural” a form of communication it is because you can’t reach them with your words. That’s like a guy talking about how sex is a really superficial and lame way to bond with people because he has erectile dysfunction. Bottom line: reach out to people on their level and work to bring them to your level. Don’t start on your level then become bitter when they don’t respond to you There’s a reason why my French teachers taught us French class in English. If they came into a classroom of English-speaking 10-year-olds and started spouting off in frog-speak my notebook would probably have been filled with dick drawings instead of conjugated verbs…
…and French impressionist dick paintings, graphite on paper.
Rule #2: “Don’t have conversations with distracted people.”
I learned this little gem from a book called, “How to be a Pick-Up Artist” by Wayne “Juggler” Elise. I believe the lesson here is really two-fold:
First, and the more immediately pragmatic of the two aspects, if you persist in talking with someone whose attention is elsewhere, some part of the message is going to get lost. It’s like, don’t give me directions while I’m on the phone getting the results of a medical exam. There’s a chance I might not remember the finer points of your instructions if my own mortality is first and foremost on my mind. To take this kind of example to a less extreme level, sometimes my girlfriend wants to tell me about what so and so said at the gym. While this information is not incredibly essential to my continued existence I am happy to digest it, even if it is occasionally uninteresting, if only to strengthen the bond between me and her. However, if she begins sharing said story while I am typing away furiously on something as profound and consequential to my existence as, say…this blog post, and then simply to fill the silence, then I might look at her incredulously and slightly annoyed. That is not effective communication.
The second aspect in this rule is that you should have a little more self-respect; if someone is ignoring what you’re saying because they are too wrapped up in other things, but you keep talking in an attempt to win them over, then you are demonstrating lower value. You are implicitly telling this person that you are worthy of only a fraction of their attention by co-signing their inattentiveness with your continued engagement. Stop doing this. Also, it need not be adversarial; simply tell them politely that you will let them finish what they are doing and then talk to them. 9 times out of 10 they will put aside whatever occupies their attention (smartphone in this case) and give you their rapt attention. If they brush your polite concern aside and insist that they can concentrate on you and their phone at the same time, remain firm in your polite refusal to have conversations with a distracted person. They will eventually come around and respect you the more for it at a sub-conscious level. Or, they will stop hanging out with you. But in this latter case, if they don’t have it in them to ever give you complete attention then they probably aren’t worth your friendship.
To these two rules I might add a third: If you are going to insist on having someone’s complete attention, at least have some interesting shit to say.
I think that if these two (3) rules are followed and really adhered to then we wouldn’t have the current backlash against smartphones that currently exists. It all comes down to communication; if you’re a good communicator with interesting shit to say, no technology is going to stand in your way. If you suck at communication and you talk about banal shit …well, no amount of pining for the good old days of probing, intellectual discourse while sitting in well-worn leather chairs in front of a fire while swirling brandy in snifters is going to cover for the fact that you talk like a faggot and your shit’s all retarded.
This unfortunately does not bring me to my last point in any artful way, so apologies if my argument seems disjointed, but here goes.
Motherfuckers Love Them Some ‘Takin’ Shit Out of Context”
Consider the following image
What do you thing Einstein meant when he said this? What do you really think he meant by saying this in the first part of the 20th century when the possibilities for inter-continental communications were being initially being explored and promised to bring all people closer together?
Do you think he meant:
A: “We must be careful not to lose our humanity and critical mind in an age of mechanization and automation which promises to alleviate many of the burdens now placed upon us” …or something to that effect (This is my own personal interpretation BTW)
B: “Fuck cell phones and anyone who uses them!” (Not an actual Einstein quotation…at least I don’t think so)
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a way in which a solid quotation can have empirical value than transcends the context in which it was initially delivered, but we really gotta be more selective about the piecemeal way in which we apply broad ideas and concepts to issues of marginal importance.
I’m not really sure.
I’m all for deconstructing what I feel is a popular backlash against smartphone technology, but that is not to say I see no problems whatsoever with the use/misuse of them or any other technology. I guess more than anything my point is a variation of what it always is: look at the bigger picture, place things in a broader context and question everything.