I am asked – often – why I don’t use a smart phone. I have an older hand-me-down Blackberry, perfectly capable of accessing the internet, but I haven’t bothered setting up a data plan with my cell phone service. Many people think I need to “get with it” and plug in, and I generally agree with them, but right now it seems like an expensive luxury I can easily do without. I love the idea of email and Google and various apps following me everywhere I go, but for now that “everywhere” tends to be the commute between home and work, and I can be on the internet at both of those places. As much fun as it would probably be, it’s not a justifiable expense, when we still have so much do to (and spend) on the house.
But there’s another reason, less obvious, why I’m avoiding the pressure to join the crowd. I’m scared of what it might do to me. Already, I check in with the internet – Facebook, email, my message boards – several times a day, and I get grumpy and irritated when I’m kept away from the internet for a whole day. I can refrain from wandering the web when I’m involved in an activity or a conversation; for example, I don’t run to my computer to check my email every half hour when friends are over to dinner. I worry that having a computer conveniently close by in my purse or pocket might change that, especially because so many other people are in that habit now. It’s fun to be connected, and the data plans are expensive, so I can understand wanting to make them count.
Despite understanding the desire for near-constant connectivity, I can’t help but find it rude when someone checks their phone often while we’re out for dinner, or otherwise spending time together. It’s not any better or worse than checking one’s watch, or scanning the room – it gives me the impression that the person is bored with the situation and is looking for something else to do, and it makes me feel like my company isn’t all that desirable. It’s different, I think, if the person acknowledges the phone-check, something like “my husband said he’d text when he’s on his way”, while checking, instead of it being an apparently unconscious movement. When there’s a tacit acknowledgement that the phone is indeed an intrusion, it’s somehow less bothersome, at least for me. It’s also different if the phone use is related to the conversation somehow, like showing me a picture of your cat, or looking up the actor we’re talking about to see what else he’s been in. But I feel like sending texts (unless it’s an important reply that can’t wait), or updating or responding to something on Facebook, should wait until the in-person social interaction is over. I brought this up recently at a get-together and I fear I offended some of the parties involved.
Am I being an unreasonable old fart? Am I being rude in saying that it strikes me as rude? Is this a future (hell, a present) I need to get used to? I see people walking into traffic with their eyes and thumbs on a smart phone, people sitting together at a restaurant pushing buttons instead of talking and laughing together, and it makes me sad. I think of the movie Wall-E, where everyone’s on a hoverchair with a TV screen floating in their face, and I wonder if that’s where we’re headed. Being connected is great. Without Skype and the internet, I wouldn’t have found my husband. Without Facebook and email, I’d have a much harder time staying in touch with my family and friends in Canada and across the US. Am I a hypocrite, then, to be annoyed when people are checking their phones? I feel like it’s a fine line between having the ability to be connected and needing to be connected, and I’m not entirely sure where the line is (or should be), especially in myself.
What do you think?