We’ve all seen them, at some point in our environment we may have even been one of them: Phone Zombies. People so engrossed in their phones that they walk along the street with their heads bowed ignorant of any outside stimulus.
They aren’t just on the street, they are on trains, in pubs, in coffee shops and restaurants, people who are so drawn in by their smartphones that they see and hear nothing else. They could cause accidents, be the victims of muggings even die and nothing would stop them from staying with their mobile phones.
I was recently in my local weatherspoons meeting with friends before going out for an evening meal and one of my friends looked at another table and there were three guys sitting there not talking to each other, just staring down at their respective mobile phones. Now if I had done that with my friends for any length of time it would have been seen as rude, but what is normal for one group isn’t always normal for another.
We all considered this strange dichotomy, with one of my friends going so far as to ditch social media and his phone for the better part of a week. Examining this further, it seemed to be a generational thing: the day-to-day usage of smartphones seemed to increase with each generation, millennials would use mobile phones more than their generation y or x counterparts.
However this seems to be too easy an explanation dismissing the fact that many people in these opposing generations use their phones just as much as the main smartphone using groups.
The use of smartphones is the first inclusive social phenomenon in so much as it doesn’t vary from social class to social class, working class people use their phones just as much as the people perceived to be the social elite. People have become so dependent on their smartphones, that they retain an almost drug like addiction to them.
So we have to take a wider view, applying this logic to us as a species and the mediums used to communicate: after all a phone is just a tool which we use to access this stream of consciousness, it is the stream that shapes the debate.
In the times before the internet (seems strange to think that it’s only been around for 30 years), people communicated with the methods at their disposal: landline telephones, letters, spoken word debates, newspapers and television. We didn’t have the sort of broad reaching far ranging access to the world that we have today.
One might argue that this was a better time, but we still had ignorance, prejudice and things that were not documented. Now we have the ability to access the latest news, social interactions and the ability to air our views in a way that we have never had before. This should be the greatest time to be a human being, where we can truly change our world and know what it truly is to be human.
But it isn’t. In shaping our online world we have pulled away from the community aspect of humanity, we have become introverted individuals with everything to say online, but with nothing to say in the real world.
One of the greatest strengths of humanity is that humans build communities, we come together with a common cause to shape our surroundings and grow as a collective. That is how evolution occurs. Communities now seem to be moving online and as a species we are losing that aspect of coming together.
I can hear the voices saying: We come together online? Yes we do, but how much of that is definitive, how much is a person actively saying yes: I want to be a part of this community and shape its future and how much of it is just a click without conviction or an opinion without grounding.
We have the clarity of the written word, but the word is only as good as the writer and can easily be interpreted incorrectly or manipulated to suit a specific set of facts or guidelines. We have political leaders using twitter when they should be using their mouths and in some cases causing international incidents in the process.
So now we move onto the next part of the debate: human beings are doing more things online and through their smartphones than at any point in previous history. We talk online, we date online, we play games online, we contribute to debates online, we organise social interactions online.
As the technology evolves will we eventually become non talking apes who are incapable of articulating ourselves unless a wi-fi connection is present?
I would argue, yes we are. Technology is our friend, yes in so much as it has enabled us to enrich our lives, growing beyond the normal confines of our species to a point where we can become something different.
However, technological evolution has supplanted physical evolution as the main catalyst for change in the human species. Its like Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park :people were so preoccupied with whether or not they could do a thing, we never stopped to if we should.
I have no issue with the people that say, why not? Its not as if physical evolution has done us any favours, but it has: we have evolved from a bunch of monkeys to the dominant species on this planet.
As our technology has grown and evolved, we have created an environment that is unsustainable, contributing to our increasing isolation as individuals and making us lazier as a species. Phone zombies are just the latest symptom of this problem.
Should we go door to door and burn our wifi routers and mobile phones? No, as a society currently going cold turkey would ultimately cause more harm than good, but at some point there will be a movement away from this technology, a technological or physical backlash against the invasion of technology into our lives.
We will lose our drive forward and technology will grow stagnant, at this point the only real change will come from our old friend evolution. We will have to evolve beyond the technology that has brought us to this point, whether that evolution occurs in 1,000 or 10,000 years is anyone’s guess but it will happen, of this I am certain.