Everyone wants to feel like he or she is connected. “Feeling connected” once referred to having emotional connections with the people in our lives. We have emotional connections to our families, our friends, our colleagues, even our pets. Today, however, feeling connected has taken on a whole new meaning. The computer changed the way we connect with others in a dramatic way. But mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry phones, and Droid tablets and phones have allowed us to take those emotional connections with us wherever we go. We can reach out to those whom we have an emotional connection with at any time of the day or night, just by reaching into a pocket or bag and tapping a couple of keys, either virtual or real. These devices allow us to feel more connected than we ever have before and give us great power, but in the immortal words of Stan Lee, creator of the Spider-Man comics, “with great power comes – great responsibility.”
We as a society have become so dependent on these mobile devices, that our emotional connection could be said to now extend to the devices themselves. People have a hard time going through their day without checking their email many times or monitoring responses to something they posted on Facebook this morning. It’s common now to see people walking down the street holding their smart phone in front of them, reading their email or checking on their stock portfolio. We never leave home without these devices if we can help it.
However, in public places, people often don’t seem to have any consideration for those around them when it comes to using their mobile devices. People use their phones while they’re in line waiting to get their morning latte or while riding the bus to work. When you go to a movie, even though announcements are made before the movie begins, people are reluctant to put their devices away. Often those devices are not put away at all. People send text messages to their friends to ask what they’re currently doing or to comment on the movie. Worse yet, and to the consternation of those around them, these people take or make calls while the movie is playing! But while a recent survey “by an industry group suggests Americans are a little less likely to yak on their mobiles in some public places than they were two years ago (Sullivan),” it shows that talking during a movie is only down 5% from two years ago.
At Broadway shows it’s not much different. The ushers try to make sure that people silence and put away their devices because it’s distracting to the actors and other audience members, but occasionally their efforts are futile. Sometimes audience members forget to put their phone on silent and it goes off in the middle of the show. The sound of people taking pictures with cell phone cameras can be distracting as well. During a musical, this might go unnoticed, but not always. An audience member at a performance of “Gypsy” starring Patti Lupone in 2009, captured an audio recording of Ms. Lupone angrily stopping the show in mid-number and demanding that the audience member be removed from the theater, repeatedly asking the person, “who do you think you are? (DivaBehavior)” Of course, the person who captured this was also guilty of using their cell phone during the performance and recording a copyrighted property, but many people who find this behavior intolerable applauded Ms. Lupone and the person who was daring enough to capture the incident and post it on YouTube.
But sometimes when someone’s cell phone goes off and disrupts a performance, it ends up in the national news. On January 10, 2012, an audience member’s cell phone went off during the final movement of “Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. The New York Philharmonic was being conducted by Maestro Alan Gilbert. When the “iPhone’s distinctive ‘Marimba’ ringtone initially went off, Gilbert turned his head to signal his displeasure. But the ringing from the first row persisted and minutes went by. Gilbert stopped the orchestra until the phone was silenced (Associated Press).” The Philharmonic is quoted as saying that this “was the first time the music director had ever interrupted a performance due to a cell phone or other disruption (Associated Press).”
Driving and using a cell phone is now considered to be a dangerous combination, even though a study in 1991 by the National Public Services Research Institute, under a grant from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, stated that “research has shown that use of cellular phones does not interfere significantly with the ability to control an automobile except among the elderly, where potentially dangerous lane excursions can occur (McKnight, and McKnight).” The report goes on to say that, “however, the effect of cellular phones as a possible distraction has not been investigated (McKnight, and McKnight).” But McKnight and McKnight may not have been aware of other research that was being done at Harvard and other places, looking specifically at the effects of the distraction that cell phones cause. “A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cell phone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it (Richtel).”
America’s legal system, however, did take notice of the research and started passing laws against cell phone use while driving. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is banned in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Utah has named the offense careless driving. Under Utah law, no one commits an offense when speaking on a cell phone unless they are also committing some other moving violation other than speeding (“Cellphone and Texting Laws”).” But now texting while driving is adding new fuel to the fire, resulting in more laws being passed. “Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 35 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, novice drivers are banned from texting in 7 states and school bus drivers are banned from text messaging in 3 states (Cellphone and Texting Laws.)” In many states officers can’t specifically stop someone for using a device, but have to have some other reason to stop them to be able to give them a citation for using the device.
“So if using a hand-held cell phone is distracting, why not use a Bluetooth headset?” you may say. According to Matt Richtel, “research shows that using headsets can be as dangerous as holding a phone because the conversation distracts drivers from focusing on the road.” A lot of new car models are building Bluetooth capability right into the operating system of the car to make it less distracting for drivers to make calls. You simply tell your car that you want to make a call and who you want to call, and the operating system connects the call for you without having to take your eyes off of the road. This is considered less dangerous, but still not completely safe. “Research shows that drivers conversing with fellow passengers do not present the same danger, because adult riders help keep drivers alert and point out dangerous conditions and tend to talk less in heavy traffic or hazardous weather (Richtel).”
Researchers tell us that it has to do with how our brains work. Steve Yantis, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University, is quoted as saying that “the brain has trouble assessing separate streams of information – even if one is visual and the other aural. Further, he said, “when people talk on the phone, they are doing more than simply listening. The words conjure images in the mind’s eye, including images of the person they are talking to. That typically doesn’t interfere with driving. The problem starts when a car swerves unexpectedly, or a pedestrian steps into traffic, he said, and the mind lacks the processing power to react in time (Richtel).”
Probably one of the biggest issues that has arisen with the use of mobile devices is their use by children, especially at school. Most schools have now banned cell phone use during class in the hope of preventing children from being distracted. However, it’s a common occurrence even with the bans. Children often smuggle them into school and keep them in their lap during class. Then they can text their friends when they get bored during class. Larry Rosen states in his article, “The Amazing Power of ‘Tech Breaks,'” that “according to the Nielsen Company the average teen sends and receives 3,705 text messages per month,” and that “research at Wilkes College in Pennsylvania found that more than 90% of college students had sent or received a text in class and nearly two-thirds of the students felt that texting should be allowed in class.” (Rosen)
But many parents are joining their children in the fight against bans on cell phones at school. An Associated Press story on February 11, 2009 reported that “parents have written angry letters and emails, staged rallies and news conferences, and threatened to sue (“School Cell Phone Ban Causes Uproar”).” This particular ban was instituted in the New York City school system, and parents were outraged because the ban keeps them from being in touch with their children “in case of another crisis like Sept. 11 (“School Cell Phone Ban Causes Uproar”).” The article also states that “New York has one of the country’s toughest policies on student cell phones” and “also bans other electronic devices, such as iPods (“School Cell Phone Ban Causes Uproar”).”
So what started this great need to feel connected? According to Jim Taylor, a clinical associate professor at the University of Denver, in an article on the Psychology Today web site, “we officially became homo sapiens approximately 200,000 years ago. With the emergence of sophisticated language, we were able to communicate with each other face-to-face in a way that allowed for the emergence of civilization as we now know it.” (Taylor) Smoke signals were invented as a means to communicate with others from a distance, followed by the telegraph and the telephone once electricity became commonplace. But we as a society saw a need to be able to communicate in more ways, so the ability to send facsimiles over phone lines followed quickly after the telephone. But telephones were connected by wires, and wires meant that we had to remain stationary. Our answer to this was the invention of the car phone in the late 1970s. The technology then began extensive improvements until it got smaller and smaller, and more sophisticated, until cell phones became so small that you can carry them in your pocket.
But being able to speak with friends and relatives wasn’t enough. When society saw that images could be transmitted over phone lines, it sparked the idea that maybe there was a lot more that could be done with the technology. What we know today as the internet began in 1969 with the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which connected four university computer centers. The concept was further developed in 1972 “with a network of 30 host computers at the Internetworking Group (INWG) in Washington, DC, which was used to establish standard protocols (Venkatesh).” The internet was officially introduced to the public in 1994 and very quickly transformed the way our society communicates.
The internet started to evolve rapidly. Commercial companies saw the internet as a way to get product information to people quicker without having to spend enormous amounts of money on printing. Service companies saw it as a way to tell people about their services without the need for producing commercials and paying to have them aired on television or the radio. Movie production companies saw it as a way to draw more people to movie theaters to see their latest movies, without them having to leave their homes. Book publishers saw it as a way to let people know about the latest books, again, without them having to leave their homes.
Just about any form of information can be accessed over the internet and this has caused an explosion of new devices that can be used to access that information. Web sites have been developed for a multitude of purposes, from simply presenting information to providing entertainment. But probably the newest and most exciting thing that web sites have been created for is keeping in touch with your friends, relatives and colleagues. Social network sites have been integrated into many people’s daily routines. The most widely recognized social web sites today are probably MySpace, and Facebook. Jim Taylor, clinical associate professor at the University of Denver, said in another article published on the Psychology Today web site, “because we are fundamentally social beings and an essential part of our development involves finding our place in the social and cultural context in which we live, feedback from that social world plays a significant role in the evolution of our self-identities (Taylor).” Jim Taylor notes in the same article that, “social media has caused us to shift away from expressing our self-identities and toward constructing facades based on the answer to these questions, ‘How will others look at me?’ and ‘How can I ensure that others view me positively?'” (Taylor) People post photos of themselves that are sometimes years younger than their current age and they only post interests or hobbies they have that they think others will be impressed by. We’ve taken a web site designed for keeping in touch and turned it into a marketing tool for our own self images.
These devices that we now can’t live without are also multiplying like rodents and getting smarter year-by-year. Manufacturers and software engineers are finding new ways of giving us access to the information and connectedness that we crave. Let’s just remember that we’re not alone in this big, wide world we live in. Many of us are crowded together in big cities, with not much room separating us physically. We need to remember that manners and consideration for others is one of the things that make us a civilized society. We can harness this great power that comes from these devices and the vast world of information out there, but we have to remember to wield that power with grace and intelligence. We’re also connected physically to those around us and those people are close enough to throw a latte on us if we’re not respectful!
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DivaBehavior. Patti Lupone Stops “Gypsy” Mid-show to Yell at a Photographer. 2009. Audio. YouTubeWeb. 24 Jan 2012.
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