What’s More Interesting: Your Companion or Your Smartphone?

A New York Times article summarizes my thoughts on smartphone [over]use.

I have a smart phone. I have had one for about five years, starting with a Palm Treo, moving on to a BlackBerry, and now settling in with an iPhone (on Verizon, thank you). The phone has always held useful data, such as my address book and calendar, and starting with the BlackBerry, also gave me access to useful apps such as weather (remember, I’m a pilot, too) and e-mail.

TextingI never really used my smartphone like the true computing device it is — that is, until I got my iPhone. The preponderance of iPhone apps has really helped me take the next step into true mobile handheld computing. I find myself using this phone more than any other I’ve ever owned: consulting the weather, looking up things on Google and the Web, taking photos, tweeting, and yes, even texting.

What I recently discovered, however, is that despite my involvement in the field of computing, I’m rather behind the curve when it comes to smartphone use. I generally use it when I need to and, when I’m not using it, it’s in my pocket on its belt clip. You see, I still think of my phone as a phone. (Imagine that.) Indeed, since we turned off our land lines, it has become my only phone — my only means of verbal communication with people I’m not with. The apps are a sort of bonus — a way to get more information when I need it.

What’s Getting My Attention Lately

But as I travel about, walking around the Phoenix area, going to restaurants, shopping, and doing things outside my home and office, I’m noticing that more and more people have their phones in their hands with their heads bent over them or their thumbs tapping keyboards or screens wildly. Sometimes they’re doing this while alone, waiting on line to check out or sitting at a sidewalk cafe or even while walking through a mall. But more and more often, they’re doing this while in the company of other people. In fact, I’ve often seen groups of people who are physically together but mentally elsewhere: at least half of them are paying more attention to their phone than their companions.

Two recent experiences really brought this home to me.

One was a photo I saw in The Guardian Eyewitness app on my iPad. This app shows off a daily photo from The Guardian, a UK newspaper. The photo has a caption and a “pro tip” to describe what makes the photograph work from a photographer’s point of view. The idea is that you look at good photos to learn about photography. The photo from April 13, 2011 showed 12 young people standing against a building in front of a memorial pile of flowers. Four (or possibly five) of them are either talking on or looking at their phones. The caption is what makes it so ironic: “Friends of Negus McLean gather at the spot in Edmonton, north London, where the 15-year-old was stabbed to death on Sunday while trying to stop a gang from stealing his brother’s BlackBerry.” I don’t think copyright law allows me to reproduce the photo here, so I suggest you follow this link if you want to see it.

The other was a visit by some friends from out of state who stayed with us for a few days. I don’t consider either of them techies — they just know enough technology to do what they have to do in their normal daily lives. I’m definitely more in tune with computers and mobile devices than either one of them. What really shocked me, then, was their smartphone use. Often, even in the middle of a conversation with me or my husband, one of them would be tapping out some kind of message on his or her smartphone. The phone was usually on the table beside them at meals and was often consulted. One of the phones made a noise every time an incoming message was received — which was quite often. At first, I was appalled by this. But as time passed, I got used to it and accepted it.

Should We Accept Rudeness?

Yesterday, while trying to catch up with news via the NYTimes iPad app, I stumbled across an article in the “Most E-Mailed” section that made me question my willingness to accept this kind of behavior. Titled “Keep Your Thumbs Still When I’m Talking to You,” it included this sentence that really sums up the whole situation:

Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude.

How can anyone argue with that?

Because that is what it is: rudeness. If you’re with someone else, in a conversation or at a meal or even waiting in line for a latte at Starbucks, it is rude to shift your attention from that person to your phone for no apparent reason other than to conduct a text conversation with someone else or tweet what you’re doing or even check your e-mail. By ignoring the people you’re with, you’re telling them that your smartphone or whatever is on it is more important than they are.

Is it? If it is, why bother with personal interaction at all?

The article goes on to cite examples of people more interested in their smartphones than what’s going on around them. It also offers this wonderful quote that I’m taking as a word of advice:

…Mr. De Rosa wrote: “I’m fine with people stepping aside to check something, but when I’m standing in front of someone and in the middle of my conversation they whip out their phone, I’ll just stop talking to them and walk away. If they’re going to be rude, I’ll be rude right back.”

Now I know how to handle the folks who find their smartphones more interesting than me.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “What’s More Interesting: Your Companion or Your Smartphone?

  1. While I agree with you that it’s rude, I don’t think it’s special to smartphones. I think they’re just another avenue for not paying proper attention to the person you’re with.

    I can cite no-tech and low-tech examples from my own life:

    * a friend who arrived for a casual brunch with a group of friends where I arrived first and she arrived second. She pulled out the newspaper and started perusing it. I was shocked and offended.

    * a former colleague who came up to me at a social gathering to ‘chat’ but who was only filling in time while she scanned the room for the ‘important’ people. I doubt I’ll bother chatting with her again.

    * people in small group meetings who feel it’s OK to answer a phone call with no apologies, prior warning or apparent need to leave the room.

    Unfortunately lack of common courtesy is not new. :-(

    • Miraz: Wow. Those are some good examples of rude people. Interesting that you should mention the phone call…I was planning on tackling phone etiquette in a blog post today. Let’s see if I can pump it out.

What do you think?