In case you haven’t seen it, there’s a video going viral right now of some photos where the photographer has removed people’s phones and tablets in order to shame them for using technology in social settings. And in case you can’t already tell: it pisses me off. A lot.
I first saw this video this morning while I was laying on my couch scrolling through Facebook, watching muted nail art tutorials on YouTube, and listening to a live bluegrass show that someone had recorded yesterday and posted to Facebook from across the country. So, I was spending some much needed connected alone time and recharging from a couple weeks of intense dissertation writing and a weekend of academic conferencing.
After I watched the video, I FB messaged it to my friend and fellow blogger Merideth and said “This pisses me off. I actually think most of these people look like they’re happy and having fun. That couple on the couch especially. Who cares if you’re using a screen, you’re likely using it to stay connected to people and information that matters and likely going to share it with the people in the picture with you seconds after this photo was taken.” And I stand by that defense. Maybe those dudes standing at the grill are looking up a recipe, or watching a YouTube tutorial on how to get their charcoal grill going. Maybe they’re reading interesting political articles that they’ll talk about together. Maybe they’re checking their fantasy football scores (that’s a thing right?). Maybe they’re scrolling their social media feeds and connecting to a bunch of people who aren’t even in the photo. My point is: using technology can be socializing. It’s maybe a different kind of socializing than face-to-face encounters. But that’s it. It’s just different, not worse or better.
Merideth, who researches high school students’ uses of technology and social media BY THE WAY, responded saying “Also. Sorry to break it to you, folks, but technology neither causes nor resolves your social problems.” We forget this: devices like phones and tablets are tools. We use them to for particular purposes, and in that way, they likely heighten behaviors or habits that were already there. Basically, socialization existed before and will continue to exist long after your technology changes shape or dies away. This is not a new phenomenon. We have been using tools to mediate our social interactions for a long long time. And just because our socialization looks different now doesn’t mean we’re in crisis.
I also clicked on the video and started reading comments. I was happy to find that I was not alone, and that comments in the video were pretty much 50/50 pro-this-video (“I just don’t get people who stare at their phones all day.” “Kids should play outside more instead of playing on their iPads”) and con-this-video (“these pictures and the music they’re set to are manipulative and hypocritical” “what if we took this photographer’s camera [A TECHNOLOGY] away from him, what would he be? a hypocritical voyeur too attached to his device?”) That last one is my favorite criticism: This photographer is shitting where he eats in a big way. He created a viral campaign about how he hates the devices that allow for viral campaigns of his photos. Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to shame the people who are looking at his photos through their devices and the social media those devices house.
Anyway, I’ll end my rant here: just because socialization looks a little different now doesn’t mean we’re not socializing or that our socialization is broken. I am over the top grateful for the chance to stay connected to family, friends, and colleagues who live near and far and who share valuable knowledge and resources with me through their devices.