Everyone hates cellphones. Why they're all wrong

In a nation as divided as ours, it is difficult to find a topic that most people agree on -- but concern regarding ou...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 1:07 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 1:07 PM

In a nation as divided as ours, it is difficult to find a topic that most people agree on -- but concern regarding our (over)use of cellphones is one of them.

It's important to remember that though new technologies have often inspired moral panic, they bend to social and economic will. Cultural critics of the 1700s thought that books were uncontrollable escapist temptations that would cause people to retreat from public life. And, in the 1800s, the telegraph inspired fears that the use of abbreviations to reduce the costs of messages would ruin the nuance of language.

Similarly, contemporary critics have called smartphones, "toxic," "addicting," "sleep depriving," and "empathy killing." This concern is hardly surprising, given just how much we engage with our phones -- approximately 80 times a day. But while we reach for our phones quite frequently, most of those interactions are brief exchanges.

Indeed, we are most likely to reach for our mobile devices in our in-between moments -- while waiting, commuting or taking a break.

Remove the technology from the equation and ask yourself how often you have clicked a pen, fidgeted with scrapes of paper, doodled, read a newspaper or magazine, or daydreamed before the arrival of cellphones, and suddenly those numbers are not quite as ominous.

Our phones provide a greater range of on-demand entertainment and communication opportunities than previous public diversions. Research shows that instead of making us more isolated in public space, mobile devices actually make us more likely to linger and socialize.

Our phones are a valuable resource for facilitating conversation and are more likely to function as a social stimulator than as an escape from those around you.

Let's take commuting, as an example. Posted "codes of conduct" and respect for privacy have long made plane, train and bus trips solitary and isolating experiences. But, recently, I conducted a study of mass transit riders and discovered that their commute had become a key moment for socializing via their mobile devices. Over 70% of the commuters surveyed reported using their smartphones to check in with friends and family via text message and social media platforms.

In other words, mobile devices transform the commute into a much-needed opportunity for social connection and creativity, thanks to digital tool kits like GIF databases, emoji keyboards, Snapchat filters, sharable content and even discreet flirtation apps designed to digitally catch the eye of a fellow rider.

In addition to the commute, I studied mobile device use at the workplace and found that co-workers enjoyed on-demand streaming platforms and YouTube "media snacks" in ways that were more meaningful and customizable than the breakroom television. Employees took their breaks together without concern for the broadcast schedule.

Instead, they gathered together around a mobile phone and accessed on-demand content that they all enjoyed as a reward for completing a task.

And employees also used their mobile devices as a quick reference tool when they were discussing popular culture around the watercooler. Out-of-the-loop colleagues were able to join the conversation thanks to a text-messaged link that provided an example of the topic under discussion.

Like the commute and the break room, waiting rooms are public spaces that mobile phones have transformed. Waiting rooms have long been a reminder of social hierarchies, as those with money and power rarely wait. The rest of us can assert the value of our time through the use of mobile games. Mobile games (or casual games) are simplistic, consisting of repetitive actions performed over time in small increments without end. People can earn incredible scores, achievements, and even virtual cities in their downtime

Communities have developed that celebrate the achievements within mobile games, and special rewards are given for the creativity they display. In these communities, the games become the shared culture that bring people together and keep them socializing online for years.

But the benefits of mobile devices extend far beyond commutes, offices and waiting areas -- they apply to living rooms, too.

Typically, the person who controlled the remote dictated the evening's entertainment. Mobile screens provide options for those who are forbidden from touching the remote and may just keep the family all in the same room. Mobile devices also multiply the entertainment options and even offer mobile apps that act as competing remotes to stealthily change the channel at commercial breaks.

Mobile phone users are not the only ones capitalizing on these in-between moments, though.

Technology companies and entertainment studios have created a "procrastination economy" designed to monetize this downtime. I developed this term to describe the mobile apps, streaming video content and software designs that target consumer's in-between moments spent on mobile devices.

We need to pay attention to the design of algorithms, subscriptions services and micropayment structures that attempt to channel our mobile device use into transactions, because mobile devices have made our in-between moments as valuable to brands and advertisers as they have to harried multitaskers.

For our children, mobile phone etiquette and awareness of the procrastination economy should be taught by parents, educators and mentors in the same ways we teach social graces, civics and professionalism. I'm inspired by research that calls for us to emphasize the opportunities these technologies offer instead of reverting to the same tired finger-wagging.

And there is already positive momentum in this direction. Technology companies and regulators are beginning to think about the design of software ethically and to develop guidelines that make networked communication productive instead of predatory. These conversations and adjustments are familiar as they accompany all new technologies.

Discussion and debate about the "proper" way to use mobile phones is important, but reasonable conversation about the technology must account for context. Doing so will alert us to the fact that mobile devices have made our downtime the new prime time.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 93556

Reported Deaths: 2810
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6974155
DeSoto541155
Harrison373272
Jackson338867
Madison320886
Rankin319075
Lee260667
Jones242078
Forrest239070
Washington217971
Lafayette208439
Lauderdale1999124
Bolivar179465
Oktibbeha175050
Lamar163134
Neshoba1536103
Panola144027
Sunflower141744
Lowndes139957
Warren138150
Leflore136980
Pontotoc123416
Pike121248
Monroe118865
Scott116425
Copiah116233
Coahoma112327
Holmes109258
Marshall107615
Lincoln106753
Grenada106135
Yazoo103829
Simpson101143
Union97824
Tate95137
Leake93937
Adams91936
Wayne87721
Pearl River86550
Marion84133
Prentiss81117
Covington80522
Alcorn77311
Itawamba76221
Newton75723
Tallahatchie75418
George74913
Winston72419
Tishomingo65837
Chickasaw65524
Tippah64216
Attala64125
Walthall59325
Clay57817
Hancock56121
Jasper55415
Noxubee54315
Clarke53539
Smith52314
Calhoun50612
Tunica47913
Montgomery45520
Claiborne45216
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41714
Perry40718
Quitman3745
Humphreys37315
Stone35511
Greene34517
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32511
Carroll31212
Amite31110
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2429
Benton2191
Franklin1893
Choctaw1795
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 131405

Reported Deaths: 2292
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19015337
Mobile13066289
Montgomery8674173
Madison758375
Tuscaloosa7240114
Lee571359
Shelby568450
Baldwin506149
Marshall383543
Etowah335547
Calhoun333839
Morgan319726
Houston270822
Elmore254947
DeKalb235519
St. Clair223435
Walker222680
Talladega206926
Limestone199519
Cullman184517
Dallas174826
Franklin174328
Russell17132
Autauga169024
Lauderdale164633
Colbert160626
Escambia156225
Blount155114
Jackson150611
Chilton148527
Dale133043
Covington130927
Coffee12778
Pike11559
Tallapoosa113683
Chambers113042
Clarke104917
Marion94228
Butler90938
Barbour8357
Winston70912
Marengo69919
Lowndes64827
Pickens63514
Bibb63210
Hale61528
Randolph60812
Bullock58714
Lawrence58520
Monroe5758
Geneva5724
Cherokee56516
Washington54613
Clay5427
Perry5376
Wilcox53111
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52331
Macon47720
Henry4724
Fayette4219
Sumter41819
Lamar3462
Choctaw34512
Cleburne3236
Greene30015
Coosa1643
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