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.