The Mobile Disconnect

Does being in-touch with everything put us further out-of-touch?

A lot of people have cell phones. Like, more than a lot according to the only-kind-of-but-not-really reliable figures from Wikipedia. The following ‘facts’ are based on these figures: If the number of active mobile phones were distributed evenly across the world’s population, 80% of the human race would have a mobile phone. Fact: Several developed countries have more active cell phones than they do people. The U.S., with a population of close to 315 million, is one of these countries. That means, the number of uptight business people with two or more mobile phones is enough to make up the stagger on the population who have yet to embrace the technology.

Now, I work in downtown Toronto and, coincidentally, so do many business people. Walking down a sidewalk at rush-hour is a bit like running an obstacle course with a herd of blindfolded buffalo; fun to watch and irritating to participate in. It’s fun to watch when those with their faces buried in a mobile device run into road signs, bus shelters, and other people; it’s irritating when they run into me. These people barrel down the sidewalk with their heads down half-expecting all park benches, trash cans and other people (also with their heads down) to get out of their way. It’s either that or they are so entranced by their conversation, Twitter feed, Facebook page, news article, blog post or game of Tetris that they truly don’t consider the possibility that they may accidentally ‘bump into’ a UPS truck doing 60km. I know because I’ve done it too.

We’ve become addicted to the convenience of these devices and gotten used to having this endless stream of information at our fingertips. You can go anywhere in the world with the click of a link or facetime your buddy in Botswana with the push of a button.  If nothing else, it’s something to do when boredom sets in. My uncle once quipped that the mobile phone is an escape from the reality in front of you. If you decide that you don’t like talking to the person you’re talking to, your phone gives you an excuse to talk to someone else.

The fact that we are connected so closely to everyone has created a gap – a disconnect. As these devices put you in touch with people who aren’t there, they put you out of touch with the people who are there. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with your grandmother while your girlfriend is sending you dirty text messages? Me neither, but I would imagine it’s very distracting.

But that’s not all. Often times, our focus strays from the people around us simply because we are aware of the unlimited alternative sitting in our pocket. We don’t have to be in the middle of a passionate text message exchange to be distracted – we’re distracted by the fact that we could be.

It’s easy to see the upsides of text messaging. A text message allows for things that a conversation does not. You can take time to collect your thoughts and phrase your sentiment properly. You can respond as quickly or as slowly as you want. You can do other things while you’re waiting for the recipient to respond. You can bring a text correspondence to a full stop if it has grown annoying or repetitive – no need for formalities, farewells or awkward pauses. So, what you’re left with is little more than a sterile version of a human conversation. The mechanical medium has sucked the life out of it. The spontaneity – the possibility that I might accidentally say something stupid or awkward – begins to disappear.

Still, this doesn’t totally eliminate the possibility of sending a message that is stupid or awkward. I’ve sent a text message or 50 that I wish I hadn’t. After each time I do, I wonder for a while whether or not I should or shouldn’t have sent that (probably) inappropriate text message. What if my old high school bud didn’t get my joke about his George Hamilton tan or his glow-in-the-dark teeth? Last time I thought about this, I missed a hilarious story that my aunt was telling about two dogs and a kitten’s litter box. The pathetic part is: I didn’t realize I missed it until after I read his response.

The Mobile Disconnect