I have come to the conclusion that despite the usefulness of smart phones, that I hate them more than a little bit. I’d like to think that this isn’t due to phone envy, but rather a very real problem that exists with them. Admittedly the same problem exists with other devices (most notably tablets and laptops) but in my personal life it’s the smart phones that take the cake.
The problem I believe is that with the small screen and the fact that people hold them close to themselves generally making it impossible for you to see what’s on the screen ultimately means that you have no clue as to what the person is actually doing on their phone.
In our typical environment we interact with people who are engaged in activities all the time, however it’s generally obvious what those activities are, whether it’s reading a physical book or juggling knives, we have external sensory information that guides us as to whether or not the person we want to talk to is engaged in something time sensitive, important and/or dangerous. Thus we can judge an appropriate time to start a conversation or a totally inappropriate one. Given the lack of insight into what someone is actively doing on their phone, it’s nearly impossible for you to know if they are actively engaged in something important which you should not interrupt, and further they tend to stay nearly continuously engaged (from you perspective with their phone, even if from their perspective they switch from a game, to email, to texting, to the internet and so on) without the normal natural pauses that tend to exist when switching activities.
To some degree we’re used to this from people playing video games, or using computers. The key difference is that in general those things happen on big screens which are also visible to you. So you’re able to judge to some degree what the other person is doing BEFORE you decide to interrupt them. Allowing you to decide if what you want to ask or talk about is more important than what they are currently doing. Thus keeping courtesy as part of the interaction. Without the foreknowledge of their activity on their phone, it’s exceedingly difficult to be courteous with your interruptions (from their perspective at least).
Obviously this is a first world problem, but it seems to me that it is one that will continue to get worse and worse. Other related problems would include (but are not limited to):
- Bluetooth and cell phone conversations in public where it’s not immediately obvious that someone is on the phone, such that you think they are talking to you
Hopefully the designers of mobile devices, augmented reality glasses and peripherals will start to take into account the social (and courtesy) costs of the devices they are developing.
A simple example of where this has been done to some degree is online chatting where you’re able to indicate your current status as something other than the simple toggle of online/offline, and now have options like busy or do not disturb, such that those who are wanting to interact to you through that medium have additional information which allows them to make an informed choice before initiating an interaction.
Then again, maybe things will just get worse…