On Thursday our class discussed the effects of mobile communication and how technological advents such as smartphones have affected our culture and our interpersonal communication skills. One of the supplemental articles we read for our seminar was titled "Cellphones in Public: Social Interactions in a Wireless era." An aspect of the article I found interesting was the researchers’ distinction between people in public who are deemed ‘Singles’ and ‘Withs.’ Obviously a ‘Single’ is somebody in public who is alone, and ‘Withs’ are those who are in groups or two or more. The researchers stated that ‘Singles’ often feel vulnerable and are compelled to establish a sort of purpose for themselves: they read a newspaper, drink coffee, or seem occupied so they avoid appearing as if they don’t belong in the public space. These observations on social behavior are more interesting when put into the context of mobile technology; how many times have you been with a friend or a group of people, aka a ‘With,’ but then are left alone for a few minutes? Don’t you feel a tad self-conscious, or think that others are judging you for being alone in public? It’s ludicrous when we think about it, that we should feel embarrassed at these times—our loneliness is only temporary until our friends return, and even if we are alone in public, so what? That doesn’t mean we’re undesirable people. But most of us still feel awkward, and usually turn to that one thing that insinuates we’re not social pariahs: our smartphones.
How many of you do that? When your friend goes to the bathroom or buys another coffee and leaves you by your lonesome, do you sit there and observe your surroundings? Or do you quickly pick up your iPhone or Android and scroll through your Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr feeds to make it seem like you’re busy? Or maybe you do it to avoid the eyes of others’ who you swear are judging you for being by yourself. I’d like to think that maybe I just use my phone to entertain myself when I’m by myself for a few minutes, but truth is I probably do it because of the previously stated reasons. Which makes me wonder, what did I do before I had a smart phone? Was I content to just sit around and people-watch until my friend(s) returned? Has the rise of social media made it so that we feel we can’t ever be alone?