Smart phones, stupid users?

A couple of weeks back, a close friend, who now lives abroad, telephoned me because he had suddenly realised that we had not had any one-to-one interaction for almost a year. While speaking, it struck us that the fact that we regularly received information about each other through Facebook prevented us from realising that we had not really communicated with each other for such a long time. My friend jokingly suggested that, if our one-to-one communication does not improve soon, we should ‘unfriend’ each other on Facebook!

Something more serious happened last Friday. At about 10.00 pm, a friend, who lives about 750 kilometres away, sent me and a few dozen friends scattered all over the country a text message, giving us the sad news that a common friend had passed away that afternoon. Less than 2 minutes from the moment he started composing the SMS, the information had reached all of us.

While marvelling at how technology has made it so simple, quick and inexpensive for people to share information, I was hit by the realisation that the friend who had passed away and I had never met each other for about 5 years, even though we had been living in the same city and our residences were only a few kilometres apart. We had bumped into each other a few times at professional or social gatherings, and had spoken briefly over phone maybe twice a year. On each occasion, our brief conversation had ended with one person saying something like, “It’s been a while since we’ve had a long chat. Let’s meet up one day at my place or yours,” and the other replying with something like, “Yes, we should do that sometime soon”. However, the good intentions remained just good intentions. Looking back, I realise that the fact that we were accessible to each other over mobile phone gave us the wrong impression that we were ‘in touch’. I recall that, some years back, when mobile phones had not been heard of, and neither of us had a telephone at home, this friend and I would meet each other at reasonably regular intervals. It appears that access to landlines and mobile phones had made my late friend and me inaccessible to each other.

I have often seen people at restaurants or at social gatherings engrossed in texting/emailing (or surfing the net or playing games) on their phones instead of conversing with their companions. Sometimes, I’ve wondered whether they’re texting each other!

Technology has made the world a smaller place, but have we inadvertently allowed it to create a distance between people?

I must clarify that I am certainly not against technology. Mobile phones, internet, email, Facebook, etc. have definitely helped improve not just communication, but the quality of day-to-day life. For example, many things, like booking air, train and bus tickets or payment of electricity and telephone bills, can now be done online at any time of the day, but till a few years back, each of these activities was a time-consuming process, which one had to do personally at the office concerned or pay somebody to do. To cite another example, I have myself used Google and Facebook to locate many friends with whom I had lost touch after our school/college days, similar to what is shown in this Google advertisement. This would have been impossible in the pre-internet days. In fact, this blog post has reached you because of technology!

However, I certainly think that many of us are so obsessed with technology, perhaps addicted to it, that we have allowed it to make an adverse impact on our lives.

A friend of mine once joked, “Phones have become smart, but users have become stupid!” I wonder if he was unintentionally stating the truth.

19 thoughts on “Smart phones, stupid users?

  1. I know what you mean. We dont pick up that phone to make that call. Though we will be glued to it as if our life depended on it. A friend complained that on whatsapp, people are always seen online (sending forward jokes) but when you dial their number, there’s no response. She said, it looks like we have inhibitions to talk with each other!! You have raised a very valid point through this post!!

    • I don’t think we have inhibitions about speaking with each other. There’s so much information, ‘information’, jokes, wisecracks, slogans, etc.. being circulated that we are under the wrong impression that we’re interacting with people. The sad truth is, there are hardly any meaningful discussions.

  2. Disclaimer: I’m allergic to cell phones, and my better half to landlines!
    The latest gadgets have made zombies out of practically every one. Adults forever looking at the screen for incoming email and text messages in the midst of conversations or over cups of coffee or in public places during talks and music performances are most irritating. Despite being told to switch off mobiles, many don’t; some choose to talk as well.
    Youngsters, especially with earphones, talking excitedly while crossing busy roads makes me mad! How did they manage before the advent of cell culture? Where are we heading for?

    • Nagesh, you are a wonderful example of a person who communicates very effectively (targets of your activism may say you communicate a bit too effectively!) even though you don’t use a cell phone.

      The people who keep their cell phones on in auditoriums are really irritating, more so when they choose to talk loudly about some trivial stuff.

      There have been cases of people dying in accidents while crossing roads or railway tracks because they were engrossed in cell phone conversations.

      • Unfortunately for my distinguished fellow activists, i’ve had to turn down respectfully their kind offers to gift me cell phones with only incoming calls facility to get in touch with me anytime of the day. I tell them I’m no medical man or police offer to be on call for emergency. Call me before 9 am and after 9pm.No harm in trying in the course of the day by leaving a message on my landline.

  3. I personally use most of the ‘social networks’ prevalent primarily to keep myself updated of the latest happenings across the world and of the various blogs that I follow. The only true ‘friends’ I really have are the ones that are ‘offline’ and take efforts to keep in touch with me by physically turning up at my place or a common place where we don’t keep staring at phone screens and have actual conversations face to face.

  4. I think it is just the changing nature of society which is being influenced, as it always has, by technology. My father, pre-computer age had a long time childhood friend who, in adulthood was also his solicitor. As my father rarely had need to be in touch for professional reasons other than the occasional update on a will, they often went many years – 10 or 15 even – without even phoning by landline. Just a card at Christmas and birthdays. Indeed I was an adult myself before I ever met this man but he and my father together were as natural as though they saw each other every day.

    Facebook, emails, mobiles and many other things bring us closer together and with more people further away than ever before. But our ability to just get ‘too busy’ still finds a way in and we can find we’ve not had a certain kind of contact for such a long time. Yet, even before all this technology – as with my father – we still found we had this fault.

  5. Pingback: Smart phones, stupid users? | Libatech

  6. This is definitely a side-effect of technology, amongst so many other issues. But, since it cannot be rolled back, I think the only way is to understand the problem and find out the best solution for it. So, while it’s obvious to ‘feel’ connected to friends, it’s important to make sure you ‘meet’ and connect with the people who matter, periodically too. Technology is here to stay. So, I feel that it’s very important to keep a watch-out for the problems it’s bringing, voice them, and find out a solution to them.

  7. I abhor officials with mobiles refusing to pick up or even switching off on seeing the caller’s number. Such people should either not give out their cell numbers or respond when called.

  8. What a lovely post, Pro! I am happy to say that while I am tech savvy to an extent and take advantage of it, I do not let it rule my life. I make it a point to talk to my friends and family on the phone regularly – why I even write letters – you know, with pen and paper.

    It is very alarming to see how technology has taken over most peoples’ lives though. Most live a vicarious existence based on the online relationships they create, ignoring their real life ones and then later, lament over it.

    I loved this post – describes my feelings perfectly. And Oh, I love that Google ad. I remember crying the first time I saw it!

    • The Google ad is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. I think it’s because it’s so true. No exaggeration whatsoever. As I stated, I have myself used Google and Facebook to locate many friends with whom I had lost touch after our school/college days. Most were located pretty easily, while a few were something like what’s shown in the advertisement.

  9. Keeping in touch with google and facebook is ok.
    Not receiving the incoming call, or lifting it only after seeing the caller’s id, or not responding to missed calls or sms’ is most uncouth and uncivilized – it doesn’t fit into ‘cell phone etiquette’ if at all there is one.
    Under no circumstances should little kids be gifted mobiles even on ‘security to keep in touch’ grounds. It converts them into zombies and potential addicts! So no-no!

  10. I have had a complete break from the ‘smart’ phone and ‘smarter’ apps for the past 15 days. I switched off the mobile data and put the ‘smart’ phone on complete mute. But honestly, it was a good time. I could spend a lot of time reading some nice books, playing more with kids and most of all taking care of my parents (especially mom who wasn’t well). Honestly, I did not miss the virtual world for once except the blogs that I love reading.

  11. In a first of its kind study to examine how kids behave with adults on phone, researchers from Boston Medical Centre studied 55 parents having food with kids in a restaurant – 3 almost continuously were on the phones during meals, 73% used phones at least once during meals, 15% towards end of the meal and continued as they left.
    Findings published in the Journal of Pediatrics – Lack of eye contact and interaction with the kids reduces bonding between kids and parents who spent more time looking at their phones rather than their kids, who tend to seek parental attention as they seem to be more negative or less engaged in interactions by becoming distracted and wondering why parents use phones during family time. This causes problems with the kids’ development.
    From “Addiction to cell phone is killing parent-child bond. Free Press Journal March 12, 2014.

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