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This “absent presence” is all too common on college campuses, as Chris writes, where students are glued to their cell phones, chatting or texting, paying attention to their miniature screens instead of what is actually going on around them.
It can be almost comical to observe “absent presence” in the classroom, where rows of students are eagerly texting away on their cell phones before, after, and during breaks in classes, often at the expense of talking to their peers sitting right next to them. Psychologist Kenneth Gergen thinks that this erosion of face-to-face community is a moral failing; Rosen adds, “It would be a terrible irony if “being connected” required or encouraged a disconnection from community life — an erosion of the spontaneous encounters and everyday decencies that make society both civilized and tolerable.” Is there merit to Gergen and Rosen’s point?
His comment that cell phones “are constructing the barrier between ourselves and the traditional daily events to which we are accustomed” reminds me of an article by Christine Rosen called, “Our Cell Phones, Ourselves,” in which she writes that cell phones have led to a “radical disengagement in the public sphere” wherein people sacrifice not only etiquette, but also engagement in the world around them as a result of being so cell-phone centric.
I think Chris is spot on that people are increasingly “creeped out” by tranquility; everywhere you look, people are glued to their cell phones, and it has become harder and harder to just sit in silence for a few minutes without feeling the urge to check your phone, send a quick message, or search through your phone mindlessly until the period of waiting is over.While normal texts and conversations are socially acceptable, tethered technologies, such as the Blackberry and i Phone, are the power tools that are constructing the barrier between ourselves and the traditional daily events to which we are accustomed, such as face to face conversation and, more importantly, paying attention to our superiors during college classes and office meetings, instead of the You Tube shenanigans playing on our hand-held screens.According to Apple, over 16 million Americans owned an i Phone as of last June.Haven’t we all had the experience of waiting for a friend to show up or for a class to start, when we pull out our cell phone and start messaging someone, simply because it feels awkward just sitting there?Tranquility, as Chris says, has lost its stock value: cell phones have bred a culture where it is simply uncomfortable to sit alone without being (or even just ) busy.
I cannot imagine that the Blackberry is very far behind, and I can guarantee that Santa Clara University represents a couple thousand of those in active use and another couple hundred that are now broken from using them incidentally as coasters, bottle openers and napkins.