Smart Phone Zombies

Margaret Wiggins '15, Columnist

Two weeks ago, I had the fortune of seeing Muse in concert. The show was truly epic by all standards, as could be evidenced by the sore feet and neck I suffered for several days afterwards from all the jumping and head banging. There was a moment during that completely awe-inspiring concert, though (while guitars were blaring and laser strobe lights were flying in every direction) when I noticed how many illuminated cell-phone screens I could spot throughout the crowd. I was shocked. Unless all of those cell phones were being used to take pictures or videos, I can say with complete confidence that there was absolutely nothing on those tiny screens that could have possibly been half as exciting as the spectacle currently tearing up the stage.

This experience is not the first time I’ve been surprised by smartphones to monopolizing peoples’ attention. Now, I’ll admit right up front that my own phone is decidedly un-smart. I’ll even concede that maybe it’s just my lack of access to the umpteenth functions of a modern smartphone that keeps me from understanding their appeal. But with a fully functioning laptop that stays near me most of the time, I don’t feel I’m at any disadvantage. My laptop provides all the services, information, and social media I need without interfering in my day-to-day life. It doesn’t buzz and demand attention, interrupting conversations with my friends. It doesn’t stay hidden under my notebook during class, preventing me from paying attention to the material on next week’s exam. It doesn’t irritate the people sitting behind me in a movie theater. And it certainly doesn’t take away from the experience of seeing one of my favorite bands in concert.

I don’t think it would be too much of an exaggeration to call the current smartphone craze an epidemic. Every friend I know who’s upgraded to a smartphone seems to become absorbed in it shortly thereafter. While I would hardly contest the convenience of portable, combined access to all my contacts, music, email and Internet sources, I would question the need for that access 24/7. And I do mean 24/7, because when a smartphone enables access to all those different functions whenever and wherever you are, nothing stops you from staying continuously plugged in. I have to admit that this seems a cause of concern to me. It’s becoming commonplace to stay in constant contact via text rather than making conversation face-to-face, or to keep abreast of Facebook updates in favor of paying attention to whatever class or event or real-world experience that may be happening for the one and only time.

What concerns me is the trend that’s emerging as smartphones invent more and more ways to imitate real life. People spend more and more time keeping their virtual lives up to date and less and less time actually living their real lives. People become more and more focused on documenting and sharing all the things they do through two-dimensional media, rather than enjoying an undistracted experience in three-dimensional reality. All of the people on their cell phones during that concert two weeks ago could have left with a status update describing how they had a pretty good time. Meanwhile, I left the venue sweaty and nothing short of ecstatic, with a story that could only be conveyed in person about one of the most memorable and incredible nights of my life.