Thought I’d update you about the dinner I mentioned I was going to at the end of my last column. The occasion was a birthday dinner my friends were holding in a local restaurant for me. I love these folks and enjoy talking with them very much, so as a special birthday present I asked them to turn off their smartphones for the occasion so we could all talk easily.
Several of them looked at me disbelievingly. If I had asked them to surrender their wallets they would have been less gobsmacked.
They proceeded to spend most of the dinner pointing out to me they could “look that up” and get the answer to any point or question that arose if they could only use their smartphones. Many times someone reached for her or his device, only to be chided by others that they were not to use it.
I pointed out we were having an interesting discussion in which everyone participated without the phones on, and they all stared back at me stonily. More references to “well, I could look that up if I could use my phone” were made.
One of our party could not withstand the allure of his phone. He was seated two people away from me, and surreptitiously turned the phone on and was playing with it just beneath the table until he was ratted out by the friend on my left, who saw the telltale eerie light glowing and pointed out that the fellow was “cheating.”
So then I asked them if they resented my request that the phones be turned off. They all quickly (too quickly) replied, “no,” in tones of utter mendacity. Although several of them did begin listing all the useful things they did with their smartphones. (I agree completely that having a smartphone to serve you in myriad ways is an excellent thing, BUT when the smartphone takes over your every waking thought and attention that seems to me not such a good thing.)
Shortly after that the inevitable happened and two members of the group brought out the big guns: they got into a detailed—and heated—discussion over the misplacement of certain information in MARC record fields. A third was joining the fray when I could take it no more. I put my head on the table and capitulated, saying [in a necessarily muffled voice, my head still on the table, where I had started (gently) banging it]: “Everybody, turn on your phones!”
I have never seen such a rapid response. As a body, six people whipped out their smartphones like drowning souls grabbing a life preserver just before they went down for the last time. They were all immediately bathed in the ghostly reflected light of those phones. Conversation stopped completely as they texted, scanned through pictures, made phone calls, and did God knows what else. I couldn’t take it all in, my head still being banged (lightly) on the table.
Eventually their phone activity slowed and I picked my head up from the table (the birthday tiara they had bestowed on me in honor of the occasion was in danger of harm from the [really quite soft] banging of my head on the table). I looked around at my dear friends, and saw they were now happy. All signs of truculence and discontentedness were gone. I was sitting amid a group of six cheerful nomophobes texting, phoning, and surfing to their hearts’ content.
Now I wonder: do I have a problem, or do they? Are they nomophobes, or, in contradiction of the push cited in the last column to include nomophobia in the DSM-V, is this unrelenting attention to a smartphone the new norm? I will say this: my resolve not to get a smartphone was heightened by last night’s experience. I don’t trust myself enough to risk getting sucked into nomophobic behavior. And I really don’t want to become a total slave to a device; I want to be able to converse with others without constantly keeping my ears trained to catch a text. If I’m the aberrant one in the group, I’ll just keep my little old flip phone for now and cherish my techno-eccentricity.
But I will never again ask my dear friends to turn off their phones. I love them too much to test the bounds of friendship so severely.