Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The compulsive itch for information

It's ironic. The fact that I'm choosing to blog about this particular issue rather than just mulling it over in my head.

But of all the things I've begun to worry about in my downtime, top of the list is my dwindling attention span.

I'm not sure when it happened. But I can no longer just sit still.

Last night on the tube I looked to my right and watched the woman next to me frantically scooting a finger across her Samsung phone screen. Facebook was being loaded. In the five seconds it took for that to happen, she checked her e-mail. Suddenly realising that I too was waiting for the same website to appear, I caught myself and turned it off. Conclusion? We're all at it without even realising.

It's not just me. Friends have become surgically attached to their iPhones. In the silence between conversations they swap sips of coffee for a skim read of a news feed, consuming the latest updates on life over there instead of life, well...right here.

On more than one occasion, I've returned from a night out and seen Facebook statuses posted hours earlier declaring locations, quotes and topics that were taken from our table and tapped out in text. It felt like an invasion; wasn't my company good enough? When did they find the time to do that? Probably while on the toilet. But why does every funny anecdote between friends have to be shared with 500 "friends"?

Worse than the need to share everything instantly is our sudden inability to just be alone with our thoughts. Try it tomorrow. Sit on a bus or tube for the whole journey and don't reach for your phone unless it rings. Do it. If you're anything like me, you'll last a few minutes before you forget the task at hand (or in bag) and scratch the compulsive social media itch.

As I sat on the train home yesterday looking objectively at everyone around me, all tapping, stroking, transfixed by screens, it all felt a bit strange.

When did we stop being entertained by our own thoughts and start living off a stream of everyone else's?

My guess? Probably around the same time a website started dictating, declaring, making and breaking the status of our relationships.

But that's just me. And well, probably you as well.

14 comments:

Helen said...

I drive myself insane with my inability to step away from the iPhone. I do it without thinking and, before I know it, I've obsessively checked my email every ten seconds for the whole time it's taken me to get wherever I'm going. Horrifying.

monkey typist said...

I'm guilty of this- new to smart phones and the novelty hasnt worn off. As for facebook I suprised myself how much I dreaded changing my relationship status. Sad...

Breeza said...

I'm guilty of this too and you're totally right. I miss the days of not being available 24/7. It's a bit ridiculous to be connected all the time. I'm trying to turn my phone off more and more.
Good post!

Elaine said...

My phone can't do anything other than ring, (actually, I think it can take photos as well) so I don't have the option to become addicted. I think that's probably a very good thing!

AFC 30K said...

Would love to comment but my email alert is sounding and I need to check Instagram on my iPhone

London-Lass said...

I hear what you say and raise you with :-

(a) my attention span is shot and it's a struggle to raise the stamina necessary to read a book.

(b) my writing skills are null & void and I now write like a chimp. That's been drinking.

Technology eh? Is it the end for the human race ...

cynicalscribble said...

Guilty m'lord. Like London-Lass, I also now have a short attention span - movies are even a struggle nowadays.

It's blood annoying when mates are glued to them on nights out.

I was about to strike up a conversation with a stranger sat on the next table at lunch yesterday, then realised it was probably just easier to bury my head in my phone. Sigh. I annoy myself. I'm going to do it this week though...just you watch me!

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Helen - It's a cliche, but iPhone users do tend to be the worst offenders. Which says great things about Apple's ability to make a good product, but means we're all socially doomed...

monkey - I was talking to a friend the other day, wondering how many relationships Facebook has broken down. My friend had spent the last day arguing with her boyf over pictures on there. It's a nightmare.

Breeza - It's good to have some downtime. You don't realise how addicted you are until you turn the phone off and feel like you're missing out on something.

Elaine - Definitely a good thing! Imagine the whole world had to revert to standard basic Nokias again. What would we do with our hands?

AFC - Don't let me keep you! :D

Londonlass - YES! The book thing! And writing with a pen seems to take SO much longer than typing that I immediately lose interest in whatever idea it was I had. Although I still manage to write a diary every night (by force).

Cynical - When I was travelling, laptops were a similar curse. Great for keeping in touch with home, but rubbish when it comes to being sociable in hostels. Everyone would just sit there being elsewhere. Very odd.

The Author Of This said...

I'm going to be the odd one out. I sign into Facebook about twice a month to clear the emails out, often forget I have a phone and have never visited Twitter's homepage. All the iPhone users are the worst, mates that have them never leave them alone. Most annoying when you're trying to have a conversation. And kinda rude too.

The most I do on my iPod (which I HATE because it rarely works properly) is press Play or Pause.

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

Perhaps this is just us struggling to adjust to a new technology and establish a new social norm? At one point Dom Joly's "I'm on the phone" was a typical example of how people used their mobiles; now I would suggest that they truly are "mobile" phones - with the same kind of conventions you would expect with your land line.

In 5 years time the rush to be continually on-line will have been replaced by something else, and we'll have found some way to balance our usage out.

Even FB is seeing a reduction in take up, and I know lots of people who initially had 400+ "friends" who have culled them down to their actual, real-life friends, which perhaps number 100 at most.

Grump said...

The simple answer is, don't get an Iphone. I hear in the States that one of the most popular mobile phones is a no nonsense phone that I think just allows you to make phone calls and txt messages. We don't hear about them I suppose because they are not selling you additional product. The internet is really just a very big marketing tool, and we are, Pearls before swine.
The image your post left me with, was of a brave new world, where we are all looking at our phones as the world sales on by oblivious to our distractions.
Thanks for the post.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

The Author - I wouldn't call myself a prolific facebooker, but it's worry how I automatically click onto the websites you mention out of habit or as a matter of course. Sounds like you have escaped the mad love of iPhones etc, which isn't a bad thing at all.

model - Good point. If the social media rush keeps going at the rate it is, I worry that attention spans will just diminish to nothing. But I hope it levels out. And you're right about Facebook, I find that I'm much more selective about who I want seeing my stuff and limit my profile quite carefully. It's by no means the be all and end all to my social life, I think at uni more people used the events functionality than they do now.

Grump - That's pretty much it. People are starting to distract themselves instead of just having a moment of doing nothing. It's meaning people don't have much downtime any more - like real down time. iPhones are the worst offenders!

Michelle said...

After coming back home from a holiday where I had no laptop and no wifi for my ipod touch (thankfully I don't have a smartphone - so 2001 of me), I didn't miss the checking of Twitter, email, even boring Facebook all the time. Now that I'm back home, all I do is check Twitter, email etc etc. It is a curse, I tell ya.

theperpetualspiral said...

When we got off the plane at Gatwick last week, it seemed that the first thing everybody did was turn their phone on and log onto Facebook etc. This was before we'd even cleared immigration.

When did things get that bad that after just nine hours people felt like they'd been cut off from the real world?

 

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