When it comes to smart phones, the question must be asked: who is the master and who is the slave? Do you control your smart phone, or is it the other way around?
Although most owners of smart phones will laugh good-naturedly when queried about this and admit, “Yeah, I’m addicted to my iphone,” they are unwilling to look at the extent and ramifications of their addiction full in the face.
Most of my teenage students no longer bother to talk to one another before class, during breaks or after class. They file into the classroom one by one, take a seat as distant from the other students as possible, and then take out their gadgets and sullenly scroll thru the screen, thumbs working hard. Often, I will a half-dozen or more students in the room, and you can hear a pin drop, it is so silent. Nothing happening but eyes glued to screens.
Less than 20 years ago when the first crude cell phones began appearing, there was at least some, but not much, discussion about when it was appropriate to interrupt a conversation to take a call. That brief discussion has ended and it is now taken for granted that it is permissible to answer the phone or a text message at any time, anywhere, for any reason. It is acceptable to interrupt a deep and intense conversation between a mother/daughter, father/son, boss/employee, boyfriend/girlfriend, best friends, grandfather/grandson, husband/wife, and other relationship one can think of simply to answer a call. Sure, you can still ask, politely, for the person you are conversing with to put away their phone for the duration of the conversation, but be prepared for strange and sometimes downright hostile looks from them.
Most of the phone carriers where I live in Southeast Asia do not provide voice messaging. There is nowhere for someone to leave a message if you do not answer the phone. But really, who needs such a service nowadays? The phone is with you all the time, and when it rings you answer it. Period. If someone calls and you don’t pick up, they assume you have mysteriously disappeared or perhaps died. They don’t even follow up the missed call with a text message. The notion that someone might purposely decline to answer a call is inconceivable to people now, especially the under-35 generation.
It’s humorous to observe people when the phone is in their pocket or handbag and a call comes in. They immediately spring into action, almost like they are in a fight-or-flight response. They appear to think that if the phone buzzes more than once or twice, it is an insult to the person who is calling. There is nothing casual at all about the way they reach for their smartphone. Their master – the phone- is calling, and they reach for it with the utmost sense of urgency.
The common scene now at restaurants, bars , and cafes is for hipsters and pseudo hipsters to have a whole arsenal of digital gadgets spread out on the table before them. I recently sat across from a young twenty-something girl at a cafe who was so desperate to appear cool that she took no chances. She had not one, but two smartphones in front of her, plus a tablet. She hid her face behind oversized sunglasses and earphones. She chain smoked marlboro cigarettes and drank aspartame-laced Diet Coke. She had a notebook with some scribbles open on the table, but never once touched it. The Lost Generation on full display.