As a techno-lagger, I came late to the smart phone world. Every sentient adult who has used a phone over the past decade saw everything I’m seeing long ago. Still, it might be worth putting it to writing.
Smart phones and other sorts of communication devices have of course vastly increased the possibilities for personal contact. I can Skype with friends across the country or on another continent sitting in my easy chair, and have a real, often deep, conversation. The technology can turn us toward other persons.
As often as not, though, it turns us away from others, or more precisely, away from the persons who are immediately in front of them. A text comes in, and we all turn aside from the wife, husband, kids, friends to address an interruption from someone a long ways away. Texting allows us to carry on multiple conversations at the same time, none of them altogether attentive, most of them not involving the people within our range of vision.
This is not only potentially damaging to relationships, but it transforms our notions of etiquette: If a person walked into the middle of a conversation, made sound like a hunting horn or a robot, and began to talk about a completely different subject, it would be rude. If I turned from a conversation to talk to someone across the room, I’d be rude. But when the interruption is technologically mediated, the rudeness somehow magically disappears.
Smart phones are for communication, of course, but they are also mobile malls, allowing us to stop and shop anytime we like, wherever we are. I have an Amazon app that allows me to purchase books wherever I can get a phone signal. My daughters can browse Pinterest any hour of the day, making wish lists and, more deeply. Smart phones extend consumerist culture into our pockets.
Years of listening to Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio has taught me that technologies are not just tools that we use; they shape our uses of them. As the technology shapes our use, it shapes us, our desires, habits, and modes of life together. We need to be alert to the ways our tools make the hands that use them, and find ways to use our tools without giving them our hearts.