A Friendly Debate . . . Cell Phones

This blog came about because an author friend (the supremely talented, Camille Minichino) and I began a debate on Facebook about cell phones and whether or not people were spending too much time on them.  Camille suggested we turn it into a double blog (hers is posted here), and I thought it was a great idea.  We’ve enjoyed it so much that this might become a semi-regular thing for us, so stay tuned!  Until then, here is our first debate . . .

Alyx: There have recently been a lot of videos posted on social media lately about the disconnectivity caused from people constantly being on their smartphones.  I’m sure you’ve seen these people; walking, head bent downward, seemingly fascinated by the small electronic device nestled between their hands.  The videos talk about putting down the phone and getting back in touch with the real world around you; your friends, nature, your community. One in particular suggests that when you “connect” with the world via your phone, you’re actually lonely, because you can edit your life into a beautiful 148 character version of what’s really happening, or a simple snapshot or meme with a few pithy words attached.  This same video, however, says that it’s not loneliness to spend time alone, reading a book, or meditating or even dining out alone, because you’re being “productive and present, not reserved and recluse.”  Do you agree with that, Camille, or do you think you’re being just as recluse if your nose is stuck in a book as if it’s stuck staring at your screen?

Camille: Great question, Alyx. I think there’s a bigger issue around this — Ludditism! One of my missions in life has been to defend technology against bad press. When I hear someone refer to reading a “real” book, for example because they like the smell and feel, I wonder what kinds of books they have. Mines are all just paper, and smell a lot like my Kindle.

Alyx:  I actually had to look up Luddite, Camille, to make sure I fully understood the term.  I don’t think that technology is entirely evil, but I think some people take it too far and use it too much as a way to fill up a void that they fear is there.  I think this is often the case with regards to cell phones and those who are on them constantly.  It’s like my step-daughter who says she’s bored unless we’re doing something.  There are SO many other things to spend your time on that will actually progress your life instead of just sitting around, checking and re-checking Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. for the latest funny memes or to find out what your friends are eating for lunch.

I even know some people who will have TV on in the background (often muted) while doing something else on their computer and/or listening to music through their headphones.  That constant barrage of electronic stimuli would drive me insane.  Maybe I’m just wired in a way that it’s too much noise in my head and I want to pay attention to it all, but can’t, so I become exhausted by trying to divide my attention.

I will say that I’m of the former group with regards to books, though not quite for the same reasons.  While I definitely notice a scent to books (especially older ones), my preference is because the typeface is bigger and it’s easier for me to hold a book rather than a small, half-inch thick device.  Plus, I stare at a computer screen all day long at, so I prefer to give my eyes a rest when reading.  I do see the benefit of being able to have 5 (or 25) books all in one small device, rather than having to lug them around on vacation, but I just don’t think I’d ever be able to do it.

Something else that drives me crazy about technology is when people who are out dining with others sit at the table with their noses buried in their cell phones.  It seems rude to me to ignore someone who’s sitting right there next to you in favor of someone who may be miles away.  What’s your take on that?

Camille: We’re not too far off, Alyx, but I admit a bias toward “the latest” and toward noise. I grew up with the sounds of people/city above, below, and around me — never lived in a single, separate house until well into middle age. So I do like the comfort of noises! I understand the need to get away from a screen, however. One reason I like my e-reader is that I can make the font as large as I need and even though it’s a screen it seems to be more in my control.

As far as dinner — I think it depends on a mutually agreed upon “rules.” If I know my dinner (or shopping or driving) companion is annoyed by devices, I refrain. If I know my companion is also dying to check her email, then we go for it!

And often the connections are part of the conversation. “Oh, Ian just told me he passed his test.” or “Can you make lunch with us on the 20th?”

Alyx: I agree that if both (or all) parties are okay with it, then it’s none of my business. My husband and I have been known to go out to dinner together and bring separate books to read.  We don’t do it often, but sometimes that’s the only time we have to read and I think of it as no different from when couples read the Sunday paper together on the couch or over breakfast.  We put the books down when food arrives and relate to each other then, but we still got a little bit of down time in our fantasy worlds.

So, if you’re into the “latest”, how much time do you spend on your smart phone?  Do you spend a lot of time on social media with your smart phone?

Camille: I use my smart phone for Internet only when I’m on travel, pretty much only to check email and take pictures. My eyesight isn’t good enough to do too much FB or videos on my smart phone. Sorry I misled you about “the latest” which refers mainly to our home “entertainment” system, not portables. My husband is a retired TV engineer, so we’re the early adopters w/r satellite dishes, DVRs, and so on. Which means we’re left with a laser disc player and other now outmoded devices!

I agree about being together but engaged in something else, something that’s likely to be shared in the end, like reading a book, on-screen or off. My husband and I do separate puzzles together, calling out for help from one chair to the other!

I wonder how often that’s happening when we think people are “not connecting?”

I do have one awful story about phones – a woman pushing a stroller was crossing a huge intersection in front of me not long ago as I was waiting to make a right turn, cars stacked behind me. She had one hand on the stroller and one holding the phone, her head buried in the phone. Unsafe! There’s a line to draw.

Alyx: I agree, that’s SO unsafe! And I think that’s one of my main problems with this trend . . . people who can’t seem to take their eyes off their phones for even 5 minutes! It’s almost like people are afraid they’ll miss something important if they focus on “mundane” things like having dinner with your family, walking, or (heaven forbid) driving! If you’re sitting down somewhere and invested in your phone, that’s one thing (except for when parents use the phone as a babysitter for their young children), but when you’re doing some other activity, put the phone down and focus on that activity! I promise, the message or Facebook status update will still be there when you arrive at your destination.


So what do you think, dear readers?  Do you think people are on their phones too much these days, or do you think it’s fine as it is?  We’d love to get your opinion(s) on this topic.

I want to thank the lovely Camille Minichino for suggesting this blog!  Hopefully it’ll be the first of many.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bette Golden Lamb
    May 29, 2015 @ 10:04:21

    I enjoyed “listening” to both of you. My take, a device that takes over your life can make you miss engaging with the “real” stuff. Like holding hands and looking at the stars.


  2. kerryemckenna
    Jun 26, 2015 @ 11:41:45

    It is so off-putting to have a friend answer their phone more than once when we are supposed to be talking. Lovely Camille, you must have made some courageous conversations happened if you have known rules between friends. I find it hard to broach the issue without feeling like a heel.

    So my approach seems to be: If a person is addicted to the sugary contact of constant “attention” on social media in their hands, I say they have self-selected out, and I can’t judge nor change that, but I can focus on the people who are looking up and engaging.

    My two roommates (one of whom is my boyfriend) both put on their headphones and zone out most of the time they are at home. It is a sign of respect for my peace and quiet that their media isn’t in my earshot, but I feel so awfully lonely to be not with them irl –and yet they are sitting right there, unavailable. Now these people are like furniture. How would you suggest I request a shift without disrespecting their hunger for technology (lots of web series, legit acting research!!)?


    • Alyx Morgan
      Jul 16, 2015 @ 14:05:29

      I agree that it can feel very lonely, Kerry, to be surrounded by people who aren’t paying attention.

      I would suggest just sitting them down & telling them how you feel (lonely, left out) & ask if you can all come to a compromise where they get some time to do their own thing, but also make time to connect with you & each other. If you’ve already tried that, then maybe you need to start looking for others who will want to connect with you.

      Good luck with this.


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