The Monster We’ve Created

Cell Phone Monster

All I could think of while reading Kenichi Ishii’s article, Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life was, “This sounds a lot like present day American youth.” This research study was conducted between 2001-2003 in Japan, but I doubt their introverted culture had as much of an impact on their results as they’re letting on.

The article mentioned “32% of Japanese adolescents agreed with ‘I can easily start talking straight away to someone I do not know’, whereas 65% of their U.S. counterparts agreed (pg. 349)”. I understand American adolescents may be more socially skilled, but I believe this has little effect on their dependency on “mobile mail”, better known as texting.

It was also mentioned that, “Japanese youth increasingly seek to avoid conflict and friendships with deep involvement”, and that they practice “long term withdrawal from society” (pg. 349). My first reaction to this information was perhaps SMS messaging initially became more popular among Japanese adolescents than it did in the U.S. As a consequence, maybe they began seeing the negative effects of such convenient, impersonal communication sooner than we did, and had more time for it to penetrate their culture.

However, if this was the case American adolescents and youth still would have never become dependent on SMS. Especially considering their noted “superior” social abilities. I doubt dependency on SMS messaging would vary much across many cultures because it’s not a matter of cultural inclination, it’s a matter of convenience.

The contextual dimension of mobility (pg. 347) allowing non-business users freedom and privacy is in my opinion key to this situation. Convenience, privacy, and freedom from parent’s rules are what created and maintained adolescents’ interest in SMS. This reminds me of Sherry Tuttle’s warning about our desire to connect with each other on mobile devices replacing our desire to connect face to face.

This article speaks volumes about the monster mobile communication has created, and it’s even more interesting that it’s so old. Approximately 12 years later we have less control over mobile devices/communication, they take up increasingly more of our time through social media and it seems to be getting worse.

Adolescents, and students are no longer the primary users of SMS messaging; the addiction is as widely spread among adults. Many of the adolescents who grew up using social media are now young adults and its impact on their social development is an area of my personal interest. It’s also interesting the negative social effects of mobile technology were so obvious from the beginning.

It’s difficult to realize the bad habits you’re falling into while you’re in the situation, and I’m beginning to see the value of that quiet time Sherry Tuttle mentioned more than ever.

Posted on November 15, 2015, in Digital, mobile, Society, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I can’t remember on what show, but I remember watching a high school kid who had mastered the art of texting without looking at his mobile device to type. He only had to look down to see responses. He could pretend to pay attention to the teacher otherwise.

    I’m an awful texter. I once invited my entire extended family to a bookmut (aka a cookout). Now, we don’t have cookouts. We have bookmuts. *Sigh*

    I’m not being very collegial in my reply, but, yes, I agree. We have created a monster.

  2. I think SMS and mobile devices definitely have impacted our ability to socialize- especially younger generations. Social development during these formative years impacts how youngsters currently interact, as well as mold how they most likely will act later down the line.

    Overall, this phenomenon is similar to when a pharmaceutical drug that is released without truly knowing the long term side effects or consequences. While it is great in helping in the present, results after years of prolonged use has not been tracked. In this case, we are our own guinea pig.

    P.s. Aaron, I love your texting typo of “bookmut”. I think we all have run into instances of when autocorrect or careless typing has skewed our texts and sent out the wrong message!

  3. I think we all agree that we’ve created a monster, and I think society is grappling with what to do about it. Fortunately, we’re all becoming aware of the impact that texting and “constant connection” is having on our society.

    I am always aghast when I see all the phones on the tables in restaurants or in other social situations. Many kids have trouble talking to adults or people outside their social circles now. We need to unplug from our use of social media and turn toward having exchanges with real people. Kids need to learn how to be bored again, so we should get rid of all those DVD players in cars; can’t kids just sit and look out the window and think rather than being constantly entertained? It’s convenient for the parents, because their kids are not whining when the DVD player is on; they have to actually talk to and deal with their kids when it’s not.

    I feel hopeful that we will find a balance in all of this in society as we continue to raise awareness, discuss it and say “no” to constant connections.

    • Let me be the party pooper who does not agree. I don’t! I think that this is a new technology that changes the way that we interact with each other, and, yes, there may be some growing pains, but especially because this article is as old as it is means that it’s missing out on over a decade of societal growth around this new way of communicating.

      I text, send instant messages, and check my Facebook and Instagram accounts many many times a day. I also keep up with my friends from college and high school who are all living in different timezones. My family lives a couple states away, and I call them and like their Facebook posts and send them links that I think they will enjoy. I arrange coffee dates through text with past coworkers and help a friend that I haven’t seen in a while word her engagement announcement (shhhh, it’s a secret!).

      One of my best friends got married this past summer and I was the matron of honor. She lives in Colorado Springs and I’m in Milwaukee. She and I and another friend from high school set up an ongoing chatroom and, in all reality, planned her wedding through Facebook messenger with augmentation from a shared Pinterest board.

      Lately my little sister who lives in Cleveland broke up with her boyfriend. I sent her songs and encouragement through instant messaging between our phone calls. She’s feeling better now, but we’re still keeping up the increased communication.

      Between my relationship with my family and my closest friends, and even my distant friends that feel comfortable checking in from time to time I manage my very real relationships with the help of social media.

      Just because a gaggle of teens walk by without looking up from their phones does not mean that we have a crisis on our hands. Just because one generation isn’t comfortable with this level of communication using technology doesn’t mean that the other generation is socially inept. Lets keep our minds open. Teach our children how to use social media responsibly, and for goodness sake do NOT belittle a relationship just because it exists using the technology that is available in this wonderful new world.

      (I’m not angry. Just passionate and in the minority. I appreciate all of your thoughts and I love taking part in this conversation. Thanks guys!)

  4. After years of holding out, and everyone I know thinking I am a crazy eccentric, I am finally shopping around for a smart phone. When people find out that I have refused to adopt smartphone technology, they react like I have three (not just two) heads.

    On a rare occasion, when I do need to travel or go to a physical work location, I will use my tablet for the purpose of texting remotely. It works just fine for that purpose. I consider it a sort of “safety mechanism” that prevents me from falling into the texting addiction. It doesn’t have that palm-size appeal and convenience that a smartphone has. I often don’t bother dragging it around with me.

    It’s odd to people that I have drawn the line at the smartphone since even the least technology “hooked in” people have difficulties living without the non-stop texts. I recently had to defend myself to a friend. My life is different than many people. I am constantly at home and on my computers (and often my tablet as well). My work and school life require that I am almost always at the mercy of my online life. Admittedly, I like to conduct a good chunk of my social life via the internet.

    When I am outside of the home among “real” people, it is the one time I can be “unhooked.” If something is really important, call my “old-fashioned” cell phone and anything else can wait until I’m home to check my email. Wish me luck though! I am very fearful that I will be susceptible to the smartphone addiction. 🙂

  5. Hi Natasha,

    I find it interesting that you brought up this idea of addiction as it relates to the use of mobile devices / mobile technology. While I am definitely not of fan of constantly being connected, just the other day I went to lunch with a coworker and while we were talking and engaged in some conversation, the minute it turned quiet we were looking at our phones. It’s slightly entertaining to see how we use cell phones to take our attention away from awkward, silent, tough, or even sad situations.

    I also pondered the legitimacy of cell phone addiction. I found a statistic on Web MD, which stated 44% of 1600 managers that were surveyed said “they would experience a great deal of anxiety if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week”. Moreover, in comparison to other drug abuse addition, cell phone addiction can be just as deadly and harmful. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2012, “3328 people were killed and 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle incidents involving a distracted driver”. The CDC also reported “171 billion text messages were sent/received in the U.S in 2012”. And on the flipside, even though Heroin deaths nearly doubled between 2010 to 2012, Heroin claimed the lives of 3,665 (Associated Press, 2014). So while some may argue the legitimacy of cell phone addiction as a “disease”, I feel these statistics tell a compelling story.

    As we think about how this parallels to our work with Technical communication, I think it is important we understand the realism of how mobile devices truly impact our society (youths and adults). I often hear about this idea of writing for mobile – “Don’t Shrink It, Rethink It”. In some ways I can’t help but wonder if we are enabling this addiction by making content even more accessible on mobile devices.


  6. Great dialogue here! I’ll just add this: just last week I updated to an iPhone 6s plus and took the time to customize it and turn off ALL notifications. I also use the battery saver feature so nothing is refreshes in the background. When I have my phone out at meetings, I stay focused on the agenda and corresponding Google Docs or Slack items. Nothing flashes across my screen and there are no numbers of messages waiting for me. I’m in heaven!

    As for the age of distraction, I recently listened to “How To Get Students To Stop Using Their Cellphones In Class” on NPR, but given that Stout is a laptop campus, phones are the least of my worries!

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