Alone Together

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Sherry Turkle, Author of Alone Together

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The Era Of The iPhone

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It has become common in our society to ignore one another to stare into the tiny glowing screen of an iPhone. The weird thing is, it doesn’t even seem that strange to most people: I walked into a Starbucks the other day to get some coffee, and as I was waiting, I noticed something was off.

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The entire store was SILENT. But it was packed with people.

I turned around. Every single person in that store was staring at an electronic screen of some kind, iPhone, laptops, tablets, and every variation or in-between of those things. People were crowded at tables together, obviously friends, but they weren’t looking at each other. No, their thumbs were manically scrolling down their iPhones as their eyes flickered up and down, taking in the constant media stream. I stood there for a moment, wondering when someone would come up for air. Honestly, it took a while. A girl looked up at her boyfriend as if waking from a deep sleep. “What did you say?” she said, sounding confused. He looked up from his screen, even more confused. “I didn’t talk,” he said. They both looked back down at their screens and resumed ignoring each other.

This interaction was a few weeks ago, and it honestly weirded me out. Since then, I keep noticing similar things: A bus full of students, completely silent as they strategically ignore each other with iPhones, so as to avoid anyone else’s gaze. Instead of making small talk in a grocery store line, the soccer moms browse their iPhones in a stoic silence. Even teenagers sit at the food court at the mall, noses buried in whatever social media is so much more important than their real lives. It’s ironic that I say this as I type it on a blog, but you get the picture.

But it’s not just teenagers doing this.

It’s parents, teachers, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and all their kids.

But WHY?

Sherrry Turkle, renowned psychologist, believes it is because humans fear a real connection, but they don’t want to be alone. She believes that iPhones and technology prey on our weakest emotions: The desire to be alone, but connected. She believes that social media allows for solitude but also a false sense of “connection” to other people.

Many people describe their iPhone as being like a separate world: All their contacts, notes, media, social media, and friends are on that phone. Once they lay their eyes upon the screen, they sink into the world of the iPhone.

Turkle says that many teenagers would rather be alone, but they don’t want to be lonely.

A girl chooses to text her friend instead of hanging out, another girl would rather read because “friends are exhausting.”

But what crosses the line of normal?

This is not just something that I am noticing. Psychologists worry that behaviors associated with iPhones are sometimes not normal or healthy. For example, buying many “outfits” and covers for an iPhones gives it a weird, doll-like sense. Sleeping with a phone is strange as well, and not being able to bear being separated from a phone is not normal, either. Many people describe feeling “naked” without their phones.

iPhones and technology provide media substitutes for actions we would normally perform in daily life:

Instead of people-watching in the cafeteria, we “like” people’s pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

Instead of discussing future plans for a party in person, we post e-vites on Facebook and Twitter.

Instead of going to someone’s house to wish them a happy birthday, we write on their Facebook walls.

This stuff all seems harmless and convenient, yes. But the human interaction and connection we miss out on because of technology is more harmful than we can probably anticipate. Iphones are still a NEW thing. What will life be like in 20 years? Will technology completely have taken over?

Will we live in a world where human connection and emotions are completely obsolete? It might be “easier” that way, but what about that sense of genuine human connection? Won’t lacking those feelings affect our inner psyche? I have to believe that humans need other humans, and that we aren’t meant to be robots, living a virtual life. What side effects will our media craze have on our future personalities, the future of human evolution? Will we all have tiny thumbs and enormous eyes, all the better to soak in the constant media stream with?

I understand that the creation of the iPhone was not meant to destroy humanity, and I am not trying to claim that.. per se. However, the degree to which it is affecting the way people interact is a cause for worry. The degree to which people are connected to their phones is concerning, and what’s even more concerning is the future of this creation. How much farther will they take the iPhone? Do I want to be around to find out? Maybe I won’t have a choice, because I’ll be a robot.

Til next time.