Smart phones. One of the best and worst things invented that is available to the every day man, woman, or child.
Nowadays, everyone has a cell phone of some kind. Even my cousin, who was about 6 years old at the time, got a cell phone. With the departure of the landline as the main means of reaching somebody, I suppose this was the next logical step. Phone plans in the US are notoriously expensive, while phone plans in Singapore are ridiculously cheap, yet almost everyone I know has a cell phone, younger siblings and extended family and all. What’s even scarier is that some of said children, right down to the primary school/elementary school age, have their own smart phones.
I didn’t get a cell phone until I was in 11th grade. It was a flip phone, displayed black ink only, and had a cool blue backlight. I got it because it was a necessity at the time – my parents were in Singapore, I wasn’t always home at my violin teacher’s, and as I didn’t want to have to give out said teacher’s phone numbers to my friends, I inherited my mother’s old phone and number.
Enter the smart phone and having the internet available in your pocket. At first, it’s exciting, but eventually, the novelty wears off after a while. Sure, it’s nice to be able to look up movie times, retire your paper planner and migrate to a digital one (I know I did), or being able to check Facebook while waiting for coffee (again, guilty), but the same things can easily drive you insane. The invention of the Blackberry has everyone tied to its flashy red indicator…if it had a voice, it would yell in that trusty AOL voice, “You’ve got mail!” every few minutes. People think that even though they’re not at work, that blinking red light beckons them. The appearance of the “crackberry” started to affect socialization.
Remember family dinners? Sit-down affairs every night where every family member would talk about their day. Gatherings of friends would involve sitting and talking and catching up until the wee hours of the morning. Then, with the appearance of smart phones, these moments disappeared. In the “olden” days, a ringing phone or text message would be ignored (at least in my home) during family time; friends would excuse themselves from the table or apologize for taking their phones out to respond to something quickly; hell, even on a date, you wouldn’t dream of pulling out a cell phone because unless you had a dying relative, doing that on a first or second date pretty much guaranteed your doom. The invention of the iPad and all the tablets that followed didn’t help matters very much.
Now, especially in Singapore, smart phones are always out. Data plans are cheap in Singapore, and so everyone has one. Working in a cafe, I’ve witnessed entire families and groups of friends sitting silently on their phones or tablets. Fathers clicking away at their work email on their Blackberries, children playing video games on their iPads, couples on dates simply sitting opposite each other intently starring at their phones. I swear, there are tables that
tolerate me long enough to speak more to me just by me taking their order. Two people have separate phone conversations at a table while the others are forced to sit in silence (on their phones as well, of course) since any attempt at conversation is made more difficult by the people on their phones.
What ever happened to basic table manners? What has society come to? This is atrocious! I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou writing this; I’m not saying that I’m entirely guilt free in this matter – once in a while I have been guilty of the very things I’m writing about here. I feel naked when the internet in my phone doesn’t work. However, me or my friends will still look at each other sheepishly whenever we have to take our phone out to response to something that we deem requires our immediate attention. I don’t touch my cell phone at the dinner table with my parents unless there’s a phone call. I still excuse myself when I have to take an urgent phone call so I don’t interrupt any conversation at the table.
Perhaps I’m old fashioned. Perhaps society is changing at a faster pace than I am. Whatever it is, I don’t like where it’s going. What could possibly be so much more important than the family sitting right in front of you? The friends that you traveled half an hour (sometimes more) to see only to do what you could just as easily be doing at home? I’m not sure that these people are even aware of what they’re doing. Have we really grown so reliant on technology that we can’t even devote half an hour of our time not hooked into it?
I’m not suggesting any form of law be formed against this or something. I just wish that people would be more aware of this. I wish someone may ironically read this on their smart phone as they’re at a dinner table and consider what they’re doing. Yes, you. I’m talking about you. Put the phone down. Now.
But in all seriousness, the world isn’t going to end if you ignore your phone/tablet away for a few hours so you can hang out with your friends. Have it within reach, but resist picking it up unless it’s urgent. We used to be able to do it for all hours of the day. Why can’t we do it now? But hey, at least if the world does end while you’re hanging out with your friends, you can tweet about it and check-in on Facebook so the rest of us know ahead of time.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Rochester Physics Department’s REU)