Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Anti-social media: Would it really kill you to put down that phone? 

Some describe their phone as a useful tool they use to stay connected. In fact, writes Wanita Bates, it's your bossy, whiny and demanding companion. 

It's not the useful tool you wanted. Your phone is a whiny, demanding boss

Wanita Bates, centre, is not at all impressed by people who cannot keep their eyes away from their phones. (Liz Duff)

You can't take your mind off it. You can't keep your hands away. You're infatuated, no, it's love. You're obsessed. You can't talk to people or even raise your eyes to look at them. 

You've been hijacked by your smartphone.

You're thinking, "Missus, you don't know me!"

Oh, I see you, every day. Your smartphone stuck to your hand as if by Gorilla Glue, walking down the street, when you're shopping, or in your car, waiting for the bus, at a restaurant, in a lineup. 

Last night you were at the Salvation Army, looking at clothes. "I find that troubling," you said out loud. 

I looked across the racks. Your head is crooked over, phone to your ear. You're pushing hangers on the rack and you're talking on your phone. I find that troubling.

An annual Internet Trends study earlier this year reported people check their phones, on average, 23 times a day for messages, 22 times a day for voice calls and 18 times to get the time. (CBC)

Some may describe their phone as a useful tool they use to stay connected. In fact, it's your bossy, whiny and demanding companion.

"I need Wi-Fi! What's the password? Answer me now! Plug me in and charge me, or you can't use me anymore! Look at me, look at me! Don't you ever lose me! Hear that ding, I need a like!"

We've become so obsessed with smartphones there's even a word now to describe the fear of being without it: "nomophobia" — no mobile phone phobia.

You've been sucked out of the real world and you're living in and for your phone.

It's hard to get a count on how many times a day a typical smartphone user interacts with their bossy, whiny companion. One study says it's around 85. (It's not just daytime, of course. There are those middle-of-the-night checks for emails, tweets and "likes.") 

Craig Marshall, 25, says his millennial generation is hooked. 

'I think I need to kick my cellphone addiction/… If I'm on a phone conversation, nine times out of 10, I'm also playing a game while I'm talking to you.' (Jonathan Venura/CBC)

"The majority of people in my age group can't live without their phone — some even get separation anxiety if they forget it," Marshall said. 

"Everybody my age is addicted to their smartphone."

Marshall works at a place — the pool at the Paul Reynolds Community Centre, in St. John's — where phones are not allowed. If you bring a phone poolside, the lifeguard will kindly ask you to put it in your locker. I have seen swimmers get out of the pool to go over to a locker to check their phone.

An article in the U.K.'s Daily Mail newspaper says the average person checks their phone 110 times a day. Another study found that it could be as high as 150 times per day. Peak peeking time is between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
 
According to the annual Internet Trends report released in May, people check their phones, on average, 23 times a day for messages, 22 times a day for voice calls and 18 times to get the time. There's no accounting for the wasted days and nights spent on apps or games or social media like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

'Social' media?

Whoever named "social media" had the wrong end of the phone. There's nothing social about it. Call it seclusion or isolation, or being remote, separated, solitary and unsocial. 

That's what you are as you gaze down into your phone, tuning out everything around you. 

You've been sucked out of the real world and you're living in and for your phone. On average, you're on your phone for four hours a day or more.
 
For those four or more hours, you are preoccupied and distracted. Your smartphone has taken you hostage.

Let me rephrase that: with smartphone in hand, you may think you're connected, but you're more alone. 

The more time people spend online, the less time they're devoting to cultivating deeper real-life relationships.- David Mensink

Virtually, you're rocking it, living your life by comparing it with others' lives, to their photos, achievements and opinions. But you, my friend, have gone missing. I think I saw your photo on a milk carton!

Marshall does not agree. 

"Phones are a great social tool and the way we define social interaction is changing," he said. 

"We can communicate at a touch and will often send updates about our life in group chats and share it on social media, which makes the face-to-face interaction less important."

Is this the new normal? Snap out of it! Woman and man cannot live by virtual socializing only.

Smartphones are amazing devices, says Wanita Bates, but they're not necessarily helping you be a better person.  (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

"The more time people spend online, the less time they're devoting to cultivating deeper real-life relationships," Dalhousie University psychologist David Mensink said in a CTV interview. "Even if people are communicating with others on the internet, they still need to make time for real contact because it is the essence of being human."

Smartphones are amazing devices with a lot of apps that help you do a lot of things but they're not necessarily helping you be a better person. 
 
A friend told me about a whale-watching tour. As the whales frolicked and jumped at the side of the boat, everyone had their smartphones out, taking photos or video. They were watching the whales on the screen of the phone. What happened to being there, just to be? To stand and watch the whales with your very own eyes?

Let's be honest: do those whale watchers even know where those photos or videos are now? Backed up safely somewhere? I doubt it. Your files are gone, and the sad thing is you didn't even get a chance to form a memory. Your smartphone captured it.

Call me Auntie Technology 

I know I'm not antisocial, but I might be Auntie Technology. I never thought I would be the old lady saying things like, "Why, back in my day…"

Here's a list:

We used to walk the dog and not the phone. We'd watch where we were walking. Our messages were written on a piece of paper and we'd return them when we had time.

You would meet people and look them in the eye and say hello. If you walked with your head down, not looking, people would think there was something wrong with you. 

You would drive with your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel.

You would enjoy a chat with people in the waiting room. When you took your kids to the park, you'd watch them play and not look at your phone.

From snub to 'phub' 

If the phone beeps and you're out in public with others and you look down at it, you're a phubber. You've used your phone to snub someone! 

Basically, you're telling someone that they are not as important as that message. 

When you say, "I gotta take this call," I say, "Really?" Unless you're waiting for a heart or lung transplant, you do not need to take that call.

I don't want to be reachable every second of every day. I want time to be me, not me walking down the street talking or scrolling on a phone.

Everybody my age is addicted to their smartphone.- Craig Marshall

Let me tell you about my personal relationship with my passed-down iPhone 5. I turn it on once a month or less. I don't have a data plan. I pay as I go. My mother complains because I don't text. She's 75. 
 
However, I have a tablet and I do like my Facebook. I have another app on it, which keeps track of my tablet time. Feeling smug about the little time I spend online, I checked my numbers. 

You could have knocked me over with a feather. While my usage was down 25 per cent over the previous week, I was using the tablet for 1 hour and 27 minutes … a day! 

The National Day of Unplugging encourages people to spend some time away from their devices and put their cellphones to a comfortable sleep. (National Day of Unplugging)

Am I addicted?

I decided to take the Smartphone Compulsion Test. Relax and breathe! 

What? I scored four out of 15 and it says that my behaviour is leaning towards compulsive use.

Compulsive, me? Oh no. That's not me. Compulsive is going through the supermarket checkout and talking on the phone. This irks me beyond belief. That customer has put the cashier in the ignore zone.

Translation: you don't matter. Now, put yourself in the cashier's place. 

The immediacy of response, gratification, and excitation combine to make the user want more and more now.- Dr. Fran Walfish

Glenda Brown has worked in the grocery business for 30 years. In a perfect world, she said, she would hear, "Hello! Goodbye! Thank you!" 

If you could read her mind, she would follow that with, "Maybe you can just put that phone aside for a moment and we can have a little exchange so we get you through a little quicker and not keep someone else waiting." 

It takes as much time to be rude as it does to be kind. Turn that phone off. Let it know who's boss.

About a month ago, I strolled up the chip aisle at a local grocery store. I decided to do some informal polling. A shopper approached me on her phone. I pretended to be buying chips.

The RCMP say they've seen an increase in the number of people using their cellphones to take pictures and videos as they drive by car crashes. (Gundam_Ai/Shutterstock)

When she was off the phone I circled round and said, "Why do you carry your phone with you?" She shot back, "Why are you using that basket? Why are you wearing shoes on your feet?"

She didn't wait for my answers. I didn't even get a chance to suggest she try the Smartphone Compulsion Test. My days of informal polling are finished.

Researcher Dr. Fran Walfish compares cellphones to other bright, colourful screens. 
 
"[They] are addictive in the same way slot machines are addictive," Walfish told the Medical Daily website. "The immediacy of response, gratification, and excitation combine to make the user want more and more now."

Instant gratification is exactly what almost every app on your smartphone has been designed to provide. 

Honestly, when the telephone had a cord and was attached to the wall, we were better communicators.

You may think you're playing a game on your gadget. Nope. You're being played.

Former Silicon Valley engineers and designers are sounding the alarm. They're speaking out on the psychological tricks and addictive behaviours that app designers pursue by manipulating brain chemistry.

The guy who invented the Facebook "like" button, Justin Rosenstein, is one of them. "Everyone is distracted," Rosenstein said in a New York Times article. "All of the time."

Tina Tulk of St. John's has every cellphone that her husband and kids have ever owned. She has close to 20 phones and one day is going to put them in a shadow box. 

Tulk admits that smartphones likely make us less social. When they get together with their friends for a meal, a rule of "no shop talk" comes into effect. Phones are turned off and put off the table.

Wanita Bates has a simple rule about cellphones: they don't mix with cars. (Wanita Bates)

What might kill you? Distraction 

The world is changing, I get that. Let your phone suck out your manners, common sense, empathy and the ability to live in the now; that's not going to kill me. 

What will kill me are drivers texting and talking on their smartphones. Drunk driving is down and distracted driving is up. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day in America, nine people are killed and there are 1,000 accidents. That's every day! 

If you're in front of me at a light, head bowed, looking lovingly at your phone, and the light changes. I'll blow the horn; you'll look up into your rear-view mirror and shoot me the middle finger.

You're welcome — because for the first time that day — you've looked at someone in the face. 

Honestly, when the telephone had a cord and was attached to the wall, we were better communicators.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Wanita Bates

Contributor

Wanita Bates is a freelance writer, photographer and broadcaster in St. John's. She has won national and international awards for her work.

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