No Phone

I was born in 1982, so I'm in the strange position of remembering what it was like living with just a landline phone, and yet still being young enough to have transitioned smoothly into the use of smartphones.  For most of my young adult life I was a poor student and could not justify owning even a basic mobile phone.   When I was 22 I still only had a voicemail on my home phone and if I wasn't there - you just couldn't reach me.

I think about how my boss(es) would call me in on short notice because someone had gotten sick or quit on the spot and I was guilt-tripped into coming in to cover for them because I had accidentally answered.   I lived a bit in fear of that ringing phone, but as long as I didn't pick it up during certain times of day then I was off the hook (no pun intended).  I was obviously not contactable and I was only forced to listen through a message which I could ignore.  I mean, I could be anywhere right?  Who was to know why there was no answer.  Certainly no one expected you to.  

Think about that for a moment.  In the late 90s and early 2000s even calls among friends were still a hopeful dial, not a sure thing.   Probably like many of you, by 2003 I was slowly bullied into getting a cell simply because everyone claimed I was aloof and un-contactable, and workplaces began exclusively requiring you to have a pager, if not a work mobile.   Today,  I have joined the growing majority who rely on their smartphone alone, and use their landline only for a speedy internet connection. 

Everyone knows that your phone is in your pocket or your purse,  usually checked every half-hour when not at work, but I'd guess you've probably got your personal mobile sitting next to your keyboard during the day.  Personal calls still ruffle office etiquette, but replying to personal texts is easily accepted.  If we are called on a day off,  a supervisor simply knows we are ignoring them (and may even draw conclusions about our lack of ambition and commitment) when calls go unanswered.  If you put them off long enough, maybe even on vacation, that frustration turns to worry.  Has there been an accident?   Are you out of range?  Does anyone have Jim or Jen's personal mobile - I mean... just to be sure they're ok?  

When I consider the multitude of social nuances in this new constantly connected environment, I find I'm quite literally despondent and frustrated.  I don't want to be concerned people in my life might take my radio silence personally.  If there are two immediate replies exchanged between friends, they may be anticipating another quick response (unless maybe you've had a sudden stroke in the two minutes between our texts) and find themselves waiting expectantly for an answer.  I know, it's happened to me as to the majority of you and it's a natural reaction based on previous mediums of communication, but it also happens exactly because we understand the dynamics of texting and use of smartphones.  We can't mix and match old expectations to new technology.  To begin with, it's going to become necessary to re-assess how we react to the perils of seemingly instant connection.

It's all too easy to come to absurd and unnecessary assumptions  about the reasons for not hearing back from  a friend or colleague (for matters of the heart multiply this effect  at least ten-fold)  These imagined slights can undermine all types of relationships.  I surely wouldn't want it assumed for a second that I were specifically avoiding someone, becoming a shut-in, a flake or that I might even be upset due to the time I take to respond.

Occasionally we should be entitled to day(s) where we put our phone away, turned off, upstairs in a drawer.   No phone.  There was a time when this was possible without social or professional discomfort.   Taking breaks and only checking your phone once or twice a day might also dial down the risk of other issues related to constant connection that are being considered, such as  slipping into a dependence on the notification validation that it brings to our naturally fragile egos.    The amazing potential in mobile technology should be working for us, not feeding neuroses and wasting our time or wreaking havoc on our relationships.

This is not to say that all the other aspects of the device haven't done huge favours for us, but the benefits are often from the apps; the maps, music, Kindle and of course, games.  I also like the convenience of the camera, but I find I take much fewer photos than I used to as I started to get tired of seeing my life through the screen.   After a deciding to explore Instagram,  I also now feel distinctly ridiculous and vapid taking a "selfie" unless there is something significantly outstanding and unusual about my appearance or surroundings at that particular moment.

I know all about the 'emergency' argument for the use of mobiles, and checking our phones regularly during the day.  It is frustrating when you need an answer, and you know you might be ignored, or the dreaded waiting-for-a-text-from-your-crush butterflies hinging on that next chirp or vibration.  I'm willing to forgo that frustration for choosing to use the phone almost exclusively to organize IRL meetings with friends or actual phone calls.  Hearing a voice, and at minimum, being able to gauge tone, whether they really want to hang out, how they're doing, and actually having a clear determination of where and when we intend to find each other.

I also have recently adopted a policy of not (well, almost never) discussing any emotionally loaded topic via text. There is too much margin for grievous error when it is simpler to let them know that depending on the urgency of the problem, you will talk to them when you see them, or to when they are free to take a phone call.  It's tempting to fire off those quickly tapped replies, able to say things that seem so much easier to put into words than be forced to speak.  But while might work once or twice, but when it goes bad - it's devastating, and one person is usually left in silence.  I can almost guarantee you won't regret having the patience to wait to truly see, or at least hear, how you both feel.   

Considering all of this, I go back to the beginning to note my place in time and feel deeply glad that I did not grow from a child into a teen during during the last fifteen years.  It's well known that interconnected social media and smartphones are now often used to amplify and increase the ease of bullying,  I can't begin to get my mind around that kind of hell.   At least home after school used to be the last safe haven for those who suffered most.  Likewise I'd hate to navigate the ambiguity of making your first tentative moves in the realm of young love by deciphering text shorthand ackronyms, 'x's, and instant photos.  Multiplying the emotional intensity of puberty with an instant message system connected to your fingertips at the slip of a thumb to the "send" button just sounds like an equation for disaster.

At this point any kids I might have will probably be beyond my advice in those areas when they become teenagers.  By that time perhaps we will be able to connect directly by sending a real-life emoticon, a whole physical sensation.  Maybe that would help clear up all our communication problems entirely? I won't begin to think about that yet, but right now I do continue to feel very fortunate to be one of the last who will be able to talk about when we were really free, before the phones.    

Not So Smart Phone - Psychology Today
Original Study on Effect of Social Media - ScienceNewsline

No comments:

Post a Comment