You guys come here, hopefully, because you love your gadgets and smartphones. Even those who don’t have a vested interest in the latest technology probably still have a smartphone of some kind, and they’re probably more than capable of surfing the web, getting Facebook updates and plugging themselves into the digital world.
We are, though, using these devices a little too much. We let kids use iPads and smartphones as some sort of electronic pacifier and I’ve mentioned how we’re possibly failing the next generation already.
A couple of months ago a street photographer called Babycakes Romero captured our obsession with mobile tech and how we use it as some sort of digital security blanket. He’s a street photographer from London and snaps some revealing a beautiful images of our capital city, but his “Death of Conversation” gallery went viral and today the BBC have picked up on it too.
He points out that we’re using phones in situations where we’d previously be forced into making small-talk and perhaps even making new friends. Take this shot, at a wedding. The highly-connected smartphones let the guests at the table “tune out” of those awkward first conversations.
Babycakes Romero has also seen many, many other examples during his travels and says…
I originally took these photographs as it was something I kept seeing over and over again as well as experiencing first hand. I noticed an inherent sadness to the proceedings. I saw that smartphones were becoming a barrier to communication in person. I saw how people used it as a social prop, to hide their awkwardness, to fill the silence but as I continued to observe and document this modern phenomena I felt that the devices were actually causing the awkwardness and the silence. They basically allow people to withdraw rather than engage.
This, indeed, is something I’ve seen in the younger generation. You should prepare for me to get on my “old man soapbox” for a moment, because when I went to school there weren’t smartphones. At college we had rudimentary Nokia bricks with “Snake” and internet connectivity or a social network website wasn’t even heard of. If you wanted to meet someone, you went to a bar or a club, perhaps bought a few drinks, had a chat, arranged to meet again, then go from there. Now it’s instant and available at the swipe of a finger.
Conversation, especially on the internet, has descended into abusive comments, instant gratification and a high-speed “fix” for your problems. You want to see someone naked? You can get that on your smartphone in seconds. You can probably meet up with them the next day and get your rocks off if you want. However, if you want to learn the art of conversation then a smartphone isn’t going to help you. You’re going to have to get dropped into a crowd of people and make friends. Learn how to communicate. This is something that’s disappearing.
If you’ve got this far down the article then I applaud you too. Twitter and Facebook are designed to disseminate information in short punchy paragraphs. Anything long-form is seen as “too much work”. We want short bursts of information. A quick fix.
Take my milk-man for a moment. I know they’re few and far between, but we like fresh milk in glass bottles and he’s a great guy. He loves thrash metal and somehow remembers our milk, bread and egg order without any sort of paperwork. Trouble is, I don’t see him any more. We now pay via direct debit so he doesn’t come round for his cash every Friday. Likewise, when I go to the shops I go through a self-serve checkout. I don’t even speak to the lady any more – I checkout my own goods.
At home I’ve had three engineers trying to fix our dishwasher in recent weeks and not one has mastered the art of conversation or how to talk to customers. They grunt, break the dishwasher more, then go again. “Sign here”. What? No please? No thank you?
When you do go into a social situation where you’re near other people and there’s the chance of striking up a conversation, people turn instead to their pocket pal. Babycakes Romero comments that..
All social etiquette regarding the use of phones in company seems to have disappeared. The device take precedence over the person that is present and that felt wrong.
In my trips to my son’s birthday parties or activity clubs, some parents are busying themselves on smartphones instead of talking to each other or watching their own kids. Babycakes calls this a “computer cuddle”, where people get gratification from their smartphone..
I feel it also highlighted a growing sense of self-absorption in people as they would rather focus on their world in their phone rather than speak to the person they are with.
When I noticed and photographed these people, they do not even seem present in the real world. They are “plugged in” to a virtual world of their own making. I have nothing against technology at all but I feel it is starting to affect social cohesion and we need to know when to switch it off or we will become permanently switched off from each other. The strange and interesting phenomena is that people are starting to derive more pleasure from their “computer cuddles” than from their person to person interactions.
People rarely, unless it’s some mad PR imagery we get sent on a daily basis, seem “happy” when using their smartphones.
Sure, you’ll see the latest version a game or social networking app accompanied by images of smiling groups of teenagers all laughing together, but in reality it’s a group of disconnected individuals all staring down into their digital windows..
Smartphones have made everyone seriously dull. You’re in company, so act like it. Yes, it stops you feeling awkward and lets you pretend to be doing something rather than engage in conversation but just leave it alone for five minutes and see how you get on.
You know what you’re looking at can wait, you know its not important so just put it away. The rise of the smartphone has been so rapid that we have not had time to work out the social etiquette but we desperately need to put some ground rules in place to stop it having a detrimental affect on our inter-personal relations.
Durex sent me an email this week. They hyped their latest “sexual revolution” which involved smartphones. Day after day I was getting contacted about their latest “invention” which would “improve sex lives for many thousands”. In the end it was a simple solution. The off button.
So, I urge you. Enjoy your smartphone, but love people more.
Images are copyright Babycakes Romero