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Society’s dilemma: mobile versus social

Reading the heading, you’re probably thinking: “It’s a typo, it should be ‘Mobile and Social’”. But no. What I wanted to talk about is the behaviour, the phenomenon, if you will, of the complete dependency people seem to have developed for their mobile phones, and how it affects their social behaviour.

Here’s my theory: with smartphones and constant connections to the internet, people have developed an addiction to being online, digitally staying in touch and up-to-date. And it really starts to affect our social behaviour negatively. Mobile vs. Social.

Think about the children

Start with an experiment in your everyday life: go to a kids’ playground. Look at the parents that are there with their children, “playing”. Which essentially means a majority of them are looking at their mobile phones, surfing the net, checking Facebook. The kids are playing on their own, or perhaps with some other child.

At times, they try to get their parent’s attention, and if they’re really lucky, they’ll get a humming back, or even a nod. All while the parent’s eyes aren’t leaving the mobile screen, of course.

I’ve been standing in playgrounds recently, trying to take in and analyse parent’s behaviours and patterns (and not in a creepy stalker kind of way – just genuine curiosity). And this is how it mostly goes down. Most of this has been in Sweden, but I don’t think this is just a local occurrence, but rather, in general, the spoiled Western world approach with gadgets and connectivity.

When children are asked about their parents’ behaviour and what annoys them most, one of the most recurring answers is:

“They’re just looking at their phone.”

With that, I’m concerned with what message we’re sending to children; ours and others. The ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ approach has never worked before, and it’s not gonna work here either. Children need to feel that they are being seen, and I’m pretty confident that this ignoring behaviour will start to influence how they act with others as well.

How to behave with other people

But let’s say you don’t have children, don’t want them, etc. This way of acting isn’t reserved for parents being with their children, it happens just as much between adults. Just look at parties, lunches or any other grown-up interaction scene you can think of. People talk for a while, and then they just can’t help themselves looking at their phones. Just for a second. Just needing that latest ‘fix’.

And it doesn’t matter if they’re with people they know very well or not, or if they’re bored by the situation (even if I do expect that to excel the behaviour). Look at couples going out to dinner, exchanging a few pleasant words, eating and then diving into their phones.

Just look around at any event you go to, restaurant, etc. How do people act, and how many keep on looking at their phones? And within families, how common isn’t it that, when tired they lay on their sofa, endlessly scrolling with their thumb or index finger?

I’ve done it too

I’m not trying to be perfect. And God knows, I’ve wanted to check my phone for just a moment. Sometimes, even though the company is lovely, I have to read that last tweet, seeing if my Facebook status got any likes (because that’s all that matters), if anyone online disagrees with me.

Or, when I’ve been bored at parties, snuck away into the toilet to pee (almost forcefully) just to get a minute or two to look on the phone: what are my friends doing, what’s happening, am I really liked?

But I really dislike this part of me, this addiction, dependability on a device. I can be better. I want to be better.

Blaming Facebook, Twitter etc.

I’m certain this behaviour is bad for us ourselves as well as for our ability to interact with each other. And people are usually quick to blame social media, like Facebook and Twitter. ‘Without these services, it wouldn’t happen!’. You know, crap arguments like that.

Don’t blame a service or a potential way of doing things. You take responsibility for your actions and choices, and it’s up to you whether you want to update your status and check retweets.

I do like mobile phones

Listen, I love the internet! I love mobile phones! The possibility to just look something up, to stay in touch with dear ones no matter where I am, not trying to hunt down coins at two in the morning to make a call from the phone booth, is amazing!

And for children, learning from tablets (you know which i-word I typed there first…) and from the internet is a fantastic resource, and a great complement to existing methods.

Start living

But that’s what I’m getting at here: it’s a complement to our lives, not something that should own or dictate us.

So please, continue to use your mobile phones, do it when it’s really worth it, when it’s respectful to those around you and when it makes sense.

But, also, please don’t miss out on living, on being social, on interacting with other individuals. Because that’s the cornerstone of our society, and something I’d be very sad to see us lose.

This article by Robert Nyman originally appeared on Robert’s Talk and is republished with permission.

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