It’s 7am and my alarm clock goes off. I say clock but it’s a white iPhone 4S. I’m a slave to the tech before I’m even vertical. While I’m cradling my little window to the universe, I check the weather, my emails, Facebook and Twitter to see what everyone else is up to at this ungodly hour. May as well get the oh so sincere happy birthday wishes out of the way for my “friends” too. You know. To show I care about them. And for those who aren’t staring bleary-eyed at 57 wall post notifications, I engage their attention with a “HAPPY MONDAY!!” pic on Instagram. Check me out being a social butterfly and stuff! Social? Well it’s almost 8am and I haven’t even spoken to a human being yet despite my husband going through his morning routine in tandem with me. So, here’s a question: are we all becoming more social or more anti-social?
I can’t stop asking myself why, for example, do people in restaurants have their phones on the table. Staring back up at them like a superfluous utensil. Surely there should be some sort of “modern etiquette” in social situations TO BE social! To engage with the people around us and put aside those only reachable via the digital realms. The self-isolation caused by modern technology makes us complete islands in front of “real people” and indemnifies the whole premise of “Social Media” because, in practice, it’s anything but social. We forgo interacting with actual physical people to “like” a comment about the last kitty meme. This behaviour is prevalent everywhere now. While it’s always been a London thing, for example, to stare down at fellow commuters’ footwear in order to minimise the chances of engaging with a stranger, we’re now equally isolated in situations where we have fantastic opportunities to interact: a friend’s house party, a double-date, a wedding reception. “So how do you know Gerald then?”…..”Sorry. Just retweeting this photo of my manicure. What was that?”
So, why do we become “digitally social anti-socials?”. This flagrant disregard of basic civility in favour of digital self-exile is now the done thing. It’s accepted because it’s so common. But is this acceptance acceptable? Yes, social media has helped connect millions who are miles apart from each other, families and friends to be updated with what is happening in someone’s live. Platforms such as Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram allow us to communicate often, in real time and with little financial cost.
But when your social media interactions get in the way of your personal interactions, nay your civil obligations to your fellow man, it adds weight to the oxymoronic dawning of sociality in society being anything but social. To choose to engage with those far away consciously ahead of those you’re with is tantamount to hosting a birthday party and complaining about those who didn’t make it rather than looking after those who bothered attending. That’s actually too polite an analogy for this very disturbing phenomenon. Prudence aside, it is the height of bad manners when someone is talking to you to give them half-nods and mmm-hmms while clacking away on your phone.
Let’s illustrate our reliance on smart phones with a statistic. A survey by Plaxo Mobile found that 19% of smart phone damage is caused by us dropping our phones in the toilet. Which means that we tend to take our phones to the loo. Why? Why can’t we perform the most rudimentary of human functions without our beloved phones? We so can’t bear to be without our phones for those magical five minutes that we have learned to scroll with our over-worked thumbs leaving the other hand to…well…attend to matters more pressing. Dare we miss a funny photo on our Twitter timeline because we were doing a number two? At its most basic, this is pretty sad! You could argue that it’s because the ordeal of being on the throne once a day is a bit boring and there’s no harm in a bit of light entertainment. But I put it to you that this need to constantly engage our brains is borne of a deteriorated attention span caused by technology itself. A moment’s reflection is a thing of the past. To get lost in one’s imagination takes second place to the burning desire to find out what Jessie J had for breakfast this morning.
So here are four proposed rules of etiquette for your social life:
1) Put humans first, phones second. Regardless of location. Excuse yourself in certain situations if need be but the rule here is peeps before beeps.
2) In restaurants, leave your phones alone. Engage your dining companions. Take pics if necessary but upload later!
3) If you’re in a noisy place, end the call saying you can’t speak to them adequately. This will mean you don’t need to shout and upset those around you
4) Don’t call anyone after 10pm. Allow people to be offline and be offline for the last couple of hours of the day.