According to OfCom’s most recent Communications Market report, in addition to talking and texting, Americans use cell phones for banking, shopping, ordering food, entertainment, and travel. In fact, the average person spends about four hours of time on their cell phone every day.
The problem, according to Douglas Gentile, a child psychologist and associate professor at Iowa State University, is one of making a person-to-person connection. Parents, many of whom spent endless hours watching rerun sitcoms on tv screens as children, are now struggling to connect with their children, who would rather look at words on a screen than have a conversation.
Old and new
How is one screen different than the other? A cell phone is a singular experience while watching television can be a shared activity. Gentile says of texting or other forms of cell phone social interaction, "it's a private experience. It's like they're whispering secrets. And we find it rude."
Not limited to teenagers and their parents
Eschewing personal engagement over media engagement, far from being limited to teenagers, has become a problem for almost everyone. People who are spending time with others take calls on their cell phone and chat with their friends. Look at their messages and social media accounts and laugh at a private joke. Become five-star generals in games of battle or farmers feeding the pigs. Meanwhile, the person who is sitting across from them is left out. While many of us have come to tolerate this as a norm, done often enough, it becomes distracting, hurtful, or annoying.
The timing of cell phone usage is also problematic. As one would expect, most of this activity occurs during ‘prime time,' the evening hours when families are home or people are spending time with friends. Assuming one returns home from work at 5 PM and goes to bed at 10 PM, if the bulk of their four hours is spent on their screen, that leaves very little time to engage anyone.
The solution may not be anything more complicated than awareness and sharing. Most people who are engaged by their screen aren’t aware of anything beyond it, except on a secondary level. This lack of knowledge includes the reactions of the people who are with them. Once a person realizes how their cell phone usage may affect others, they tend to be more engaged with the people in the same room, including them in their phone usage, saying, for example, “I’ll reserve us a table and order a car.”
It’s even possible to take the sting out of an incoming text, by either excusing yourself or including the present person. “That was Grandma asking me how my day went. How was your day?”
An iPhone is your window on the world. It offers extraordinary opportunities for connection, convenience, and information. It takes a little effort to achieve a balance between enjoying the things it provides and still enjoying the people around us, but it the end, the endeavor is worthwhile.
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