The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed”

Post image for The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed”

Excerpt from this article:

A few nights ago I saw Jack White in concert. It was a wonderful night, and a big part of that was due to a new rule he has imposed on all his tour dates: no phones.

The no-phones policy illuminated something about smartphone use that’s hard to see when it’s so ubiquitous: our phones drain the life out of a room. They give everyone a push-button way to completely disengage their mind from their surroundings, while their body remains in the room, only minimally aware of itself. Essentially, we all have a risk-free ripcord we can pull at the first pang of boredom or desire for novelty, and of course those pangs occur constantly.

Every time someone in a group of people deploys a screen, the whole group is affected. Each disengaged person in a crowd is like a little black hole, a dead zone for social energy, radiating a noticeable field of apathy towards the rest of the room and what’s happening there.

 

You Don’t Owe Anyone An Interaction

Excerpt from this article:

Have you ever beat yourself up over not responding to every message you received in a day?

Me too. I know how it goes. On one hand, you’re tired and overwhelmed. But on the other hand, there are emails! Texts! Calls! All demanding a response!

A while back, I was struggling with whether or not to respond to some troubling emails. I didn’t feel comfortable keeping in touch with the sender, but the thought of not responding triggered feelings of guilt and insecurity.

What if I hurt this person’s feelings? Was I not being compassionate enough? Should I be polite, or listen to my intuition?

Eventually, I asked my husband Jonathan for his perspective. He said, fiercely, “You don’t owe anyone an interaction.”

Stop Saying Technology is Causing Social Isolation

Excerpt from this article:

If you have used the internet in the last years (and I suspect you have), you have probably seen a picture on your Facebook feed or on your Tumblr dashboard or nearly everywhere pointing out, with a sense of superiority, how people are slaves of technology nowadays, always using their electronic devices in public.

My main premise is that I don’t think smartphones are isolating us, destroying our social lives or ruining interactions. I see smartphones as instruments for communication. Instruments that enable interaction on ways that just weren’t possible before, connecting us with people all around the world, via Twitter, instant messaging or other services. Some may say that if you want to interact with people, you should interact with the ones around you, and that is probably true on certain occasions. But, on other occasions, I’m just not able to comprehend why should we be forced to interact with those physically close to us instead of with the people that we really want to interact with.

What We Learned from Staring at Social Media Data for a Year

Excerpt from this article:

Many of our interactions are moving exclusively onto online platforms. As our lives become more tethered to online platforms, we become more vulnerable and emotionally attached to what happens on them.

In other words, what happens to us on the internet does matter, regardless of how it may or may not manifest itself in the real world. Social behavior online often mirrors social behavior offline—except that online, human beings are assisted by powerful tools.

We are also starting to see the emergence of social structures—the formation of “in-crowds” and “out-crowds.” Internet culture is optimized and visually designed to encourage quick and emotional sharing, not thoughtful, nuanced discussions. This means that people are encouraged to jump into the fray based on whatever outrage/joy they feel. There’s little incentive online to slow down, to read beyond headlines, and to take the time to digest before we join our respective ideological crowds in cheering on or expressing our discontent with a certain issue.

Human beings are tribal at their core. It’s easy to follow the urge to fall into groups that affirm our views. Algorithms only steer us further into those corners.

We Are Hopelessly Hooked

Photograph by Eric Pickersgill from his series ‘Removed,’ in which he shows his subjects’ attachment to their cell phones and other handheld devices by asking them to ‘hold their stare and posture’ as he removes the devices from their hands and then takes their portrait

Photograph by Eric Pickersgill from his series ‘Removed,’ in which he shows his subjects’ attachment to their cell phones and other handheld devices by asking them to ‘hold their stare and posture’ as he removes the devices from their hands and then takes their portrait.

Excerpt from this article, which discusses a range of books on digital behaviours

  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle
  • Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web, by Joseph M. Reagle Jr.
  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, by Nir Eyal with Ryan Hoover

Our transformation into device people has happened with unprecedented suddenness. The first touchscreen-operated iPhones went on sale in June 2007, followed by the first Android-powered phones the following year. Smartphones went from 10 percent to 40 percent market penetration faster than any other consumer technology in history. In the United States, adoption hit 50 percent only three years ago. Yet today, not carrying a smartphone indicates eccentricity, social marginalization, or old age.

What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines? We wouldn’t be always clutching smartphones if we didn’t believe they made us safer, more productive, less bored, and were useful in all of the ways that a computer in your pocket can be useful. At the same time, smartphone owners describe feeling “frustrated” and “distracted.” In a 2015 Pew survey, 70 percent of respondents said their phones made them feel freer, while 30 percent said they felt like a leash. Nearly half of eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds said they used their phones to “avoid others around you.”

Video Games Are Key Elements in Friendships for Many Boys

Gaming Boys Play Games in Person or Online With Friends More Frequently Than Gaming Girls

Excerpt from this article:

In our focus groups, the responses to questions about who teens play with ran the gamut. One high schooler told us, “I play with everyone,” while another explained, “I play with friends and then I meet new people through those friends.”

…Other teens told us they liked playing games because they could be a different person. A high school boy explained how “you use an alter ego” when playing. And still others benefit from the opportunity to take out their frustrations on people they would never interact with again. As a high school boy told us, “If you, like, have a bad game, instead of throwing your controller, you can just take it out on them.”

…One middle school boy in our focus groups explained that he and a gaming friend talked about a mix of things pertaining to the game and their lives: “Like, we were talking about the game and then I’d be like, so, what do you like to do? And we would just share thoughts. Stuff.” Other teens told us that this type of interaction was “very rare.” And that usually it’s, “No hi’s. No bye’s. No hellos.”

Focus group data suggests that trash talking is pervasive in online gaming and that it can create a challenging conversational climate. As one high school boy told us, “If you’ve ever been on any form of group chat for a game, yeah. It’s harsh. … It’s funny, though. Unless you take it seriously. Cause some people take certain things personally.”

 

 

Bret Easton Ellis on Living in the Cult of Likability

Illustration by Luisa Vera

Excerpt from this article:

Most people of a certain age probably noticed this when they joined their first corporation, Facebook, which has its own rules regarding expressions of opinion and sexuality. Facebook encouraged users to “like” things, and because it was a platform where many people branded themselves on the social Web for the first time, the impulse was to follow the Facebook dictum and present an idealized portrait of their lives — a nicer, friendlier, duller self. And it was this burgeoning of the likability cult and the dreaded notion of “relatability” that ultimately reduced everyone to a kind of neutered clockwork orange, enslaved to the corporate status quo. To be accepted we have to follow an upbeat morality code where everything must be liked and everybody’s voice respected, and any person who has a negative opinion — a dislike — will be shut out of the conversation. Anyone who resists such groupthink is ruthlessly shamed. Absurd doses of invective are hurled at the supposed troll to the point that the original “offense” often seems negligible by comparison.

Now all of us are used to rating movies, restaurants, books, even doctors, and we give out mostly positive reviews because, really, who wants to look like a hater? But increasingly, services are also rating us. Companies in the sharing economy, like Uber and Airbnb, rate their customers and shun those who don’t make the grade. Opinions and criticisms flow in both directions, causing many people to worry about how they’re measuring up. Will the reputation economy put an end to the culture of shaming or will the bland corporate culture of protecting yourself by “liking” everything — of being falsely polite just to be accepted by the herd — grow stronger than ever? Giving more positive reviews to get one back? Instead of embracing the true contradictory nature of human beings, with all of their biases and imperfections, we continue to transform ourselves into virtuous robots. This in turn has led to the awful idea — and booming business — of reputation management, where a firm is hired to help shape a more likable, relatable You. Reputation management is about gaming the system. It’s a form of deception, an attempt to erase subjectivity and evaluation through intuition, for a price.

“Status Update” Episode on This American Life Podcast

This American Life

The latest episode of the always excellent This American Life podcast opens with a story about young girls interacting with Instagram. Here is part 1 and here is part 2, worth a good listen.

Three teenage girls explain why they are constantly telling their friends they are beautiful on Instagram… [before] describing the complex social map that is constantly changing in their phones.

 

Here’s a Thanksgiving treat: Device-free talk

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Photo: THINKSTOCK

Excerpt from this article, and wishing all of our colleagues in the US a happy Thanksgiving holiday weekend:

This week, millions of us will endure crowded airports and traffic jams just to sit down to dinner with people we probably can see every day on Facebook.

We are not doing it for the cranberry sauce.

We are doing it for the face time — which, wonders of technology aside, is not the same as FaceTime, texting, emailing, tweeting or any other form of electronic communion.

“Face-to-face conversation is what sustains us. It gives us a sense of connection,” says Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who leads an initiative on the social and psychological influence of technological change at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Eye contact, seeing a face, hearing a voice. Those things together give us a feeling of being cared for and caring for another person.”

Here are some of Turkle’s other tips for bringing conversation back, not just at Thanksgiving, but every day:

Create “sacred” spaces for conversation. A holiday dinner is a good place to start, but you will get more conversational mileage out of everyday family meals, car rides and walks.

Use the 7-minute rule. Give a conversation at least that long to unfold — boring bits, silences and all.

Make a point of talking to people with whom you disagree. That does not happen much online, where we sort ourselves into like-minded groups and often fear censure for saying things our friends and followers might not like.

Choose the right tool for the job. Emails and texts are extremely useful and sometimes best, but there’s no substitute for face to face when it comes to some conversations — including many of the hardest ones.