Now they’re getting ready to boil the planet. Oh, and here they come. The human race. The end comes, as it was always going to, down a video phone.
Doctor Who, The Eleventh Hour.
It’s such a common complaint – that people were using their SmartPhones rather than engaging in the now. I was working in a country area late last year and overheard a group of people talking about a colleague’s recent trip to the city. “I stepped into an elevator”, he exclaimed, “And every single person was using their phone. No-one looked up once!” Shock. Gasps. “No manners!” someone replied, “City people have no manners at all!”
It’s an interesting phenomena that perhaps more so than anything else, manners are expected to be immutable. No evolution, just sometime in the 20th Century, peak manners was achieved and they could finally be locked down.
Except, of course, that’s not the case at all. These days kids speak to their parents in ways I wouldn’t have considered, but culturally, generationally, it seems the accepted way. It’s not because they’ve all collectively got rude, but because collectively the expectation of acceptable and/or appropriate behaviour continues to evolve, just like society in general.
The world we live in has changed substantially and the circles we can communicate in has grown staggeringly. When I was growing up, letter writing was still a big way of communicating. Phone calls outside of your local area were a “treat”, so it was pen, paper, a stamp and a 1-3 week turnaround. Or even longer. (The air mail stamp actually even meant something then, too.) Quite simply, you only immediately communicated with and only existed in the now with the people directly around you because that’s the only option that was available to you.
iBelong to a much bigger world now, a world that didn’t exist when manners were supposedly locked down. I have friends on Facebook scattered across the globe, at times across every continent save Antarctica, some of whom I’ve never met yet whom I can talk to just by tapping out a few lines on my phone (or my computer – but the phone is with me more often). I’ve communities of people I interact with via Twitter from all around the globe as well. Asking and answering questions, trading tidbits of information and sharing parts of our lives, however brief. Friends move away and we stay in contact. New people prepare to move and they start making contact in areas before they arrive. The barriers to communication continue to drop away and as they do our circles increase ever greater.
iBelong to a much smaller world now, one where a friend walking down a street in Tokyo takes a photo and sends it to me just so I can see what it looks like. Where I take a photo of a statue in Milan and share it instantly with everyone I’m connected to, regardless of where they are in the world. Where I go to a museum or a zoo or just walk down a street, spot something interesting and take a photo of it. People are pulling out their phones and taking pictures so much now because it’s something they always would have done had it been so easy (and cheap) to do so. Humans covet memories, and memories made manifest by being able to instantly review them at any point later is exactly what people used to do by taking rolls of film or even drawing a sketch. Now they can just do it faster, and more often.
The complaint is that people who are immersed in their phones, and even those who are just splitting their attention between what’s going on around them and what’s happening elsewhere aren’t content to live in the now. Rubbish. They are living in the now, it’s just their now is bigger. It encompasses Australia and the UK, Germany and Brazil, China and Sweden. It encompasses the people they’re with and their best friends or family who previously would have been wholly excluded. Instead, they’re being included.
With expanded ranges of communication, people have expanded options for how much they immerse themselves in the physical here. Their actual here may be much larger than the area around them, of course. So that means sometimes the physical here gets 100% of the attention, but other times it gets 50% of the attention. SmartPhones and other forms of communication are drastically changing what the here is, what the now is.
iBelong to that world. It’s your choice as to whether you belong, too. But griping about people exercising their broader connections is turning into the new back in my day.