Do Smart Phones Make Us Antisocial?

A new study suggests that our cells make us afraid of actually speaking to each other

Do you fake it with your cell phone?

Boys, too?

You’re not alone. A full 13 percent of America’s cell-phone owners pretend to be on their phones in order to avoid interacting with people around them, according to a Pew Research Center report released yesterday.

This bears redialing. More than one in 10 American adults choose to make-believe they’re using their cells rather than risk the possibility of communicating—in person!—with human beings in their vicinity.

The figure jumps to three out of 10 among those 18 to 29, Pew notes.

This farce is just the latest example of anti-social behavior in the devolution of the once-wondrous cell phone. The message is hostel and clear: “I’m on the phone, bonehead. Don’t even  think of talking to me.”

I call it “acute conversation simulation syndrome.”

As technology advances, we further erode the mobile phone’s original purpose—to facilitate voice connection from anywhere. Back in the day, people on cells purposely spoke to each other, in real time. There was a reciprocity of discourse, or what passed for discourse.

Today, cell-phone discourse is as dead as bin Laden. Packaged in abbreviated texts, tweets, emails and voicemails, it’s intended to be one-way, not round-trip. On those rare occasions when somebody actually picks up, we panic.

A palpable connection is too sudden, too intimate. It can’t be edited or deleted. In other words, it’s too real, and that makes it dangerous. Better to avoid the spontaneity altogether.

Three quarters of all cell owners use their phones to text and take pictures, Pew’s survey found. Fifty-four percent send photos or videos to someone, up from 36 percent a year ago. Accessing the internet jumped six points, to 44 percent. More than 40 percent use their phones for entertainment when they’re bored.

There were no statistics for conversational cell phone use. Maybe it was too small to measure.

Given the subject matter, Pew’s methodology was explained in precise detail. Of the 2,277 interviews conducted in its national telephone survey, 1,522 were done via landline phone, 755 via cell. Next time, we expect a similar breakdown for interviewees.

Not for nothin’, but does an interview count as a conversation? Maybe there’s hope, after all.