In a taxi hurtling down a highway in Thailand to Suvarnabhumi airport, I had to ask the driver to refrain from texting and talking on his new iPhone 5, which he had proudly shown me earlier. He had misunderstood my approving nod and words “nice nice” to mean he could use it at will. Each time he did either, we found ourselves heaving between other road users –some who were also chatting away casually on their phones seemingly oblivious to the highway, and flying across lanes like drunken drivers. But he’s not alone in his compulsive, obsessive behaviour with mobile gadgets and the fear of not being connected or missing out on whatever – if anything- is worthwhile to miss out on. More recently, I attended a meeting and was taken aback by the number of people who were texting continually throughout the 30 minutes, without paying attention to the person chairing the event. As I left the room and passed the men’s WC, another colleague exited at the same time, texting on his phone, with his zipper clearly undone. I tried a little ed.tech. talk “Hey Ted, I see you’ve got windows on your laptop”. “Huh” he said, not registering at all. So, I tried a little travel talk “Ted, you need to bring your tray table to the upright and locked position mate, sailor Ned’s trying to take a little shore leave”. Much to his relief and mine, he caught on and did the needful. But Ted isn’t alone in his obsessive use of gadgetry to stay connected in a disconnected world.
The BBC recently reported on a woman who fell into a canal while texting and as she recalled the horror with delight, reveling in her new found celebrity status, it has been reported by some media (mainly social media) that it was the canal at fault-it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The BBC, being at the forefront of investigative journalism went on a hunt for other mobile phone users who had been victims, and had suffered a similar fate. Terrible stories emerged of their abuse at the hands of their mobile phones. One traumatized young man, fighting back tears told how he had been abused by a well-built brick wall while quite young, as he was walking home from school and texting on his mobile phone. Another young women, recalled how at a young age, while walking along the street and texting, an old battered garbage bin had thrown itself in her path-she felt as though it had been stalking her prior to the attack. She doesn’t recall exactly what type of bin it was but was able to describe in chilling detail the sound it made as it rolled along the pavement. Similar stories of obstacle abuse by mobile phones have emerged since these initial reports, and authorities are considering an official enquiry to establish the extent of the abuse and how far back it may go. Mobile phone giants Nokia, Samsung and Apple Inc, have so far made no public comment on the allegations. However, A California psychologist Dr. Larry D. Rosen has spoken out, interestingly in defense of the mobile phone. Clearly his position goes against rising tide of public anger on the issue. He argues that the responsibility for these instances of so called obstacle abuse must lie squarely on the shoulders of the human being, not the device itself. He claims that using social media (texting, twitter, Facebook etc.) through mobile devices can spawn narcissism, and the constant checking of one’s mobile device can lead to a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perhaps he offers a glimmer of hope in a world lost to twits and tweets. For example, he suggests to go against the ever popular speed, efficiency and addictive quality of fast food and reconvene the lost ritual of the family dinner. No technology permitted. The second one is to talk to our children, and reintroduce them to the normal interaction of human conversation after hours spent in cyberconversation. If this doesn’t work, Dr. Rosen suggests stepping away from the computer, or leaving the phone, iPad or other mobile device on its own (yes, this may be difficult as they are such needy gadgets) and connecting with nature. He recommends staring at a bush outside your home, work, classroom or office for a short time as this may help rewire your brain and make you more human again (Burrough, 2012). The only downside with this remedy is that the neighbors or colleagues-or in the case of children and students, their teachers-may think you’re in a psychotic-catatonic state and call the authorities and have you carted off to a place where they really will rewire your brain!
Burrough, B. (2012). When You Text Till You Drop. New York: New York Times.