Since the initial launch of the iPhone back in 2007, things have never quite been the same. Now, that might sound like a grand overstatement, but think about it; this was the first time we had access to all the knowledge in the world right in the palm of our hands. It was the first time we could update social media without having to sit at a computer to do so. Sure, the Blackberry, with some email functionality, had come before it, but that was mainly used in a professional sphere. When the iPhone hit the market, it set the pace for technology. Suddenly, every phone out there had to catch up. In the mere blink of an eye, we all had this exceptional technology constantly at our fingertips. The frightening thing about all this was the fact that we instantly began to take that for granted.
Fast forward nine years, and I’m sitting on a busy bus in the center of any given English city. There’s a good cross section of people here from aging pensioners to school kids fresh from a day’s hard work of learning how to multiply. For the slimmest of moments, I dare to glance up from my smartphone. What I see is nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone under the age of around 60 is transfixed by some sort of technology. From phones to tablets, we’re all so very afraid to take our eyes from our gadgets, lest we miss an important tweet from our favorite celebrity or snapchat from someone we went to school with decades ago.
Is it really the case that we’d rather stare blankly at a screen than engage with the outside world? Have we become addicted to the sensory overload that gadgets offer us that reality just seems rather dull? To highlight this idea, there’s the worrying fact that as many as 43% of young people have walked into something while looking at their phone, according the UK National Accident Helpline. In short, kids are literally putting their smartphones before their own safety on a daily basis.
What’s worse is how technology has entered the social sphere. Going to dinner with friends is no longer a chance to catch up and chit-chat about life, politics and TV. Instead, this ceremony has morphed into something bizarre and distorted. We sit in silence, flicking idly through timeline upon timeline. Occasionally, we look up to take a quick snap of our plate, post it to Instagram “#LivingLife2016”, but we’re not really doing that, are we? We’re living some virtual, fake existence, and I know I’m not the only one who’s a little scared.
As it happens, ignoring social situations for the sake of your phone actually has a term – that’s just how widespread it is. It’s known as “phubbing,” as in phone snubbing. We’re all guilty of the occasional “phone break” in social situations; but when the entire engagement is dominated by it, something’s amiss. It’s a phenomenon that happens almost unconsciously. One person picks up their phone, while another, not wanting to be alone with their thoughts, does the same. Then the third person at the table does the same, and so it continues. Before long, you have a group of friends, each sucked deep into their own technological zone, not even glancing upward or attempting to make any kind of apology for their behavior. Why would they need to? After all, this action is no longer considered rude; it’s the norm – but it shouldn’t be.
In switching off from the people around us, we’re missing out on a massive part of the human experience. We might connect with one another on social media, but frankly, that’s not where relationships are made. They’re made over coffee, in bars, on long train journeys. They are made in everyday, real situations, not from behind any type of screen.
So, how can we change our ways? Well, avoiding it altogether might seem a little drastic, but just being aware of your actions is part of the cure. Once we realize that this type of ignorance is not and should not be normal, we’ve won half the battle. Trying to enforce a zero-tolerance phone policy is likely to make you unpopular in any social situation, so try something a little more subtle. When you’re out with people, take note of what’s around you. Listen to what the person is telling you and fully engage with them. Don’t break to check your messages; those can wait. Once you begin to snub your phone for real life people, you might just find that they do the same.