Last Saturday night, I was invited by a close friend to hear him DJ on the patio of the local gay pub and meet a young friend of his visiting from a nearby city. Upon meeting my friend and his lovely companion, I was flattered by his quick desire to "friend" me on Facebook; I happily obliged.
After a few cocktails, I invited the young friend inside the bar to dance. But to my astonishment, instead of just dancing with me, he proceeded to check his messages on his smart phone at the same time! After commenting on his strange behavior, he simply shrugged and within moments, left the dance floor (to answer messages, I presume).
Needless to say, he and I had minimal contact for the rest of the evening other than an occasional tight smile. He is still my "friend" on Face book -- but I don’t think we will be corresponding too frequently in the near future.
This young man’s strange behavior to me prompted this article, not only because of his decision to multitask while dancing but, that he was not alone in being involved with his phone at the moment. For just when I saw him on the phone, I also noticed at least four or five other men right behind him doing the same thing while standing around the dance floor waiting for someone to ask them to dance.
I had to ask myself, "Who’s going to ask them to dance if they’re busily focused on the face of the smart phone rather than the face of the potential dance partner or suitor?" After all, we all know, as in every culture, asking someone to dance shows sexual interest -- only in our world, it’s a more direct connection.
Upon reflecting on the evening and the astonishing behavior of several of my college students during my lectures and class presentations, I see an ever-increasing number of young people using their smart phones at the most inappropriate and dysfunctional settings.
This disruptive behavior prompts me to question whether we are raising a social order of smart phone sycophants who would be completely lost without constant contact to their baby bottles or pacifiers in the more acceptable form of their smart phones. (And why is it given that name when it encourages downright stupid behavior?)
In a New York Times article, "You Love your IPhone: Literally?," the author questions whether our IPhones have an almost addictive effect on us that without our phones, many of us would feel exceedingly stressed and out of touch with the world: "Some psychologists suggest that using our IPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors, such as gambling, so addictive. As with addiction to drugs, cigarettes, or food, the chemical driver of this process is the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine."
If that is indeed the case with smart phones, how we ever going to "wean" ourselves away from them when in inappropriate places such as dance floors, class rooms or even corporate meetings, where the use of one’s phone may lead to serious repercussions; unless your boss turns a blind eye to your actions if he or she views it as acceptable, which is highly doubtful?
As a member of an older and, I believe, more socially functional generation, as well as a professor of communication, I ask all of you to be aware of your smart phone behavior in social settings. For you never know the reaction your actions will provoke if it comes across to others that your phone takes precedence over your communication partner or receiver.
After all, don’t we have to give up our "security blankets" when love or something special or even another human being is staring you right in your face?
Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.