I was serving on a public desk the other day, when a student came up and asked me to help him find something in our discovery system and to walk him through the search process. I swiveled the computer monitor his way so he could watch me go through the search, started the process, and saw that he was busily working on his smartphone. I figured he was taking notes and thought he’d look up at the computer monitor in a second to see what I was showing him.
Not so. He continued to thumb busily on his smartphone. So I proceeded to describe the steps as I went through them, and he continued to thumb his phone. He didn’t acknowledge that I was there, or that the computer screen was there, or that he was following anything I said or showed him. I went through several searches to locate the item he sought, demonstrating how to do the searches and narrating what to do when the system located the item; this took about five minutes. Throughout that time the student never looked up at the screen, or at me—he went on thumbing the smartphone.
I found the item he sought, wrote down the call number, and attempted to give it to him. I had to interrupt his smartphone interaction to do this, and then I got a glimpse of what he was doing on the phone: he was ordering food from a local restaurant. Once I handed him the slip of paper with the call number for the item, he asked, “Can’t I get this online?” I assured him that it wasn’t available online (as I’d demonstrated in the discovery system over the past five minutes), but he could get the item using the call number on the slip of paper. He shrugged, said, “Thanks,” and left.
A colleague who was nearby observed the interaction and told me I was awfully polite about the interchange and said she thought she would not have been so restrained had she been the one trying to work with that researcher. I noted that I am becoming used to students’ inattention—even when they ask me for help and to show them how to search for materials—because they are coming to the desk raptly attentive to whatever they’re doing on their smartphones and little else.
That goes for most of my smartphone-wielding friends. We can’t have an uninterrupted meal anymore without somebody getting a text “they have to read RIGHT NOW!” or a call “they have to take RIGHT NOW!” I understand if there is a medical emergency or other urgent matter that comes up, but I’m talking about routine calls and texts they could reply to later, when we’re not eating and trying to converse. What happened to having technology serve us? When did it become the master whose siren call (or text) must be obeyed on the instant? And, for that matter, what happened to common courtesy?
For the purposes of full disclosure, I will tell you that I have so far successfully resisted getting a smartphone. Why? Because I’ve seen its effect on dear friends, friends who are in all other respects polite, civil, adult human beings. But get that smartphone in their hands, and they’re on it constantly, posting to Facebook or tweeting, and always on the alert for a trill or a ping that signals SOMETHING IS HAPPENING ONLINE. And they respond lightning quickly. Mid-conversation. Mid-meal. Mid-anything.
It appears I’m not the only person fed up about peoples’ behavior vis-à-vis smartphones. My colleague Steve Kuehler (thanks, Steve!) brought to my attention the recent New York Times article “Hold the Phone, It’s Patti LuPone,” in which the actress describes to an interviewer a smartphone incident that occurred during her current play: “This woman—a very pretty young woman—was sitting with her boyfriend or husband. We could see her text. She was so uninterested. She showed her husband what she was texting. We talked about it at intermission. When we went out for the second act, I was very close to her, and she was still texting. I watched her and thought, “What am I going to do?” At the very end of that scene, we all exit. What I normally do is shake the hand of the people in the front row. I just walked over to her, shook her hand, and took her phone. I walked offstage and handed it to the stage manager, who gave it to the house manager.”
When asked by the interviewer how the rest of the cast reacted to the incident, Lupone noted, “Everybody is deeply upset by it. How can you not be distressed by this? Everybody is freaked out,” and further stated, “I don’t know why they buy the ticket or come to the theater if they can’t let go of the phone. It’s controlling them. They can’t turn it off and can’t stop looking at it. They are truly inconsiderate, self-absorbed people who have no public manners whatsoever. I don’t know what to do anymore. I was hired as an actor, not a policeman of the audience.”
A little research into the phenomenon of constant smartphone use discovered the article “Exploring the Dimensions of Nomophobia: Development and Validation of a Self-Reported Questionnaire,” by Caglar Yildirima and Ana-Paula Correiab of Iowa State University, in Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 49, August 2015, p.130–137. Yes, the phenomenon has an official name: nomophobia, with the authors explaining, “Within the scope of this study, nomophobia is defined as the fear of not being able to use a smartphone or a mobile phone and/or the services it offers. It refers to the fear of not being able to communicate, losing the connectedness that smartphones allow, not being able to access information through smartphones, and giving up the convenience that smartphones provide.”
Not only does it have a name, but the article references, “A proposal for including nomophobia in the new DSM-V,” by Nicola Luigi Bragazzi and Giovanni Del Puente, a 2014 article “mak[ing] a comprehensive overview of the existing literature, discussing the clinical relevance of this pathology, its epidemiological features, the available psychometric scales, and the proposed treatment,” and proposing the consideration of nomophobia for inclusion in the DSM-V.
Dinner Tomorrow Night
I’m going out to a celebratory dinner tomorrow night with a bunch of smartphone-toting friends (all of whom are also colleagues), and I plan to begin the celebration by asking everyone to turn off their phones. If they’re loath to do so, I think the first topic of conversation I bring up will be nomophobia. It promises to be a lively evening.
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