The Blog

Guess What? The More We Use Our Phones, the Worse We Are at Communicating

It's the modern epidemic that's worsening by the day: the omnipresence of the smartphone. On the loo (my favourite spot to tweet from), on the bus, in bed, in the middle of meetings, at dinner, during s--- yep, seriously, some people do it.

It's the modern epidemic that's worsening by the day: the omnipresence of the smartphone. On the loo (my favourite spot to tweet from), on the bus, in bed, in the middle of meetings, at dinner, during s--- yep, seriously, some people do it. It used to be bad manners to answer your mobile during meals. I remember that my father would blow a gasket if anyone called the landline (that antiquated old thing) at home, during lunch. "WE'RE HAVING LUNCH", he would bellow, mesmerised that anyone could not know we were eating lunch at.... 3pm. That very standard lunch time.

Anyway, the father of olde is but a distant figure, as now he flamboyantly answers his iPhone mid-roast. Poking heavily at the touchscreen, in a giant production that is also called Answering My iPhone, he will take all calls "as they may be work". We know full well it's always Nigel calling about the crossword. In his defence, we are all guilty of it, even though there is truly is nothing ruder than not being tuned in to your present company. It's the equivalent of that douche who never removes his headphones, in an entire 18 hour window. Even when you're having a conversation. A veritable soundtrack to his life is needed at all times. In the same way, the iPhone must be there to capture, curate (falsify?) your lives. It becomes your lifeline -- the way in which you survive the jungle of life, but equally your scapegoat for all your failings. You would think, that with our phones now hermetically sealed to our shell-likes (does anyone actually ever turn off their phone, rather than put it on silent, when they watch a movie?), that we'd become more reliable and social than ever. You'd be wrong.

In the same way that the constant assault of sex via the media is making people celibate - Katie Glass wrote a great column about this in The Saturday Times mag a few weeks ago, Google it - the constant presence of the iPhone has made us flakier than ever. We are, without doubt, a generation of flakes. Our children are going to grow up having no sense of loyalty, or obligation, thanks to us. And Apple. For some reason, even though we titillate ourselves hourly on Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Tinder and more, we'll still forget to reply to texts. Listen to voicemails. Return calls. How many times have you heard "I've been too busy to text you back". That's akin to being too busy to eat -- i.e. hogswash. Replying to a message, or an invite, we know, takes 2 seconds. You can even do it on the loo. Fact. Even though we're seemingly more social than ever - in the age of FOMO - we've developed the most crippling form of social anxiety (or anti-social anxiety, as the case may be) and the unique pressure to answer invitations has somehow become insurmountable.

The problem is that it has become a titanic effort to reply to a message. "I shall reply to all these later", you think, heroically, too busy filtering a picture of your feet to be excited about the holiday invitation nestling just a centimetre away. Of course, once you've finished draining your battery from constant app-age (something that seems to happen twice daily to me), you've forgotten all about the actual messages, from actual people. It has become a task; something on the to-do list; as inconvenient as when someone calls you and even though you are free, able to speak, just sitting on the sofa, in fact, looking at your toenails -- you don't pick up. You just don't feel like chatting on the phone, right now. It's invasive; you haven't chosen to make the call. It wasn't your decision. So then you listen to the voicemail, realise with urgency how much you actually do want to speak with said caller.... and play phone tag for the next month.

Life was so much easier B.S. (before smartphones) in The Age of Nokia. Replying to calls and texts wasn't nearly so difficult, as the only distraction you had was Snake. And although hours and hours of Snake was pretty bloody fantastic, the novelty eventually wore off enough for you to respond to entreaties. Equally, phones were much more resilient. Particularly that revoltingly rubberised Nokia 5210, which came with it's own sort of scuba diving kit, in burnt orange or teal. A phone battery could last for an entire week and the handset itself could work for years, without ever having a meltdown. Nowadays, screens smash, phones freeze, batteries die near immediately and your life becomes one constant refrain of "my phone's run out of battery". Even "I didn't get your message" is still valid, as you never know when someone's phone is off games. Capricious little buggars.

The thing is, we all play the game. We all know that sometimes we're being screened because the other person can't be arsed, literally can't be arsed to press their finger gently on the 'YES' of the touchscreen. We all know that someone might have been on Whatsapp all day (I love how that Whatsapp gives you absolute no messaging privacy -- with it's little 'last seen' documentation), but that they've forgotten to reply to the dinner invite. "Oh, I didn't see it!" you trill, too embarrassed to admit that you used up your entire lunchtime phone quota (if you can't use your mobile at your desk) playing some disturbing app, where you can can drag plastic surgery onto whichever bit of your body you'd like distorted. (This actually exists. It's called Plastic Surgery Simultator Lite. I will be writing more about that soon.)

For those that are born in the teenies, by the time they grow up, bailing out on any type of obligations will have become de rigeur. Even weddings and best friend's birthdays will be ripe for cancelling. We live in an age where we are all too tired, too stressed and too busy. We will cancel dinners with half an hours notice, never RSVP to parties and opt out of distasteful engagements with a cheerily and vague Americanism, "sorry, I can't make it." Make it? No-one was asking you to blinking make anything. For the most part, we do things on our terms only. Tweeting something pithy, lolling at something on YouTube, or Instagramming a buff sunset, is a one-sided interaction. Let's hope that we don't all become lonely virtual victims of Apple's success.