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Everyone hates cellphones. Why they're all wrong

In a nation as divided as ours, it is difficult to find a topic that most people agree on -- but concern regarding ou...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 2:07 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 2:07 PM

In a nation as divided as ours, it is difficult to find a topic that most people agree on -- but concern regarding our (over)use of cellphones is one of them.

It's important to remember that though new technologies have often inspired moral panic, they bend to social and economic will. Cultural critics of the 1700s thought that books were uncontrollable escapist temptations that would cause people to retreat from public life. And, in the 1800s, the telegraph inspired fears that the use of abbreviations to reduce the costs of messages would ruin the nuance of language.

Similarly, contemporary critics have called smartphones, "toxic," "addicting," "sleep depriving," and "empathy killing." This concern is hardly surprising, given just how much we engage with our phones -- approximately 80 times a day. But while we reach for our phones quite frequently, most of those interactions are brief exchanges.

Indeed, we are most likely to reach for our mobile devices in our in-between moments -- while waiting, commuting or taking a break.

Remove the technology from the equation and ask yourself how often you have clicked a pen, fidgeted with scrapes of paper, doodled, read a newspaper or magazine, or daydreamed before the arrival of cellphones, and suddenly those numbers are not quite as ominous.

Our phones provide a greater range of on-demand entertainment and communication opportunities than previous public diversions. Research shows that instead of making us more isolated in public space, mobile devices actually make us more likely to linger and socialize.

Our phones are a valuable resource for facilitating conversation and are more likely to function as a social stimulator than as an escape from those around you.

Let's take commuting, as an example. Posted "codes of conduct" and respect for privacy have long made plane, train and bus trips solitary and isolating experiences. But, recently, I conducted a study of mass transit riders and discovered that their commute had become a key moment for socializing via their mobile devices. Over 70% of the commuters surveyed reported using their smartphones to check in with friends and family via text message and social media platforms.

In other words, mobile devices transform the commute into a much-needed opportunity for social connection and creativity, thanks to digital tool kits like GIF databases, emoji keyboards, Snapchat filters, sharable content and even discreet flirtation apps designed to digitally catch the eye of a fellow rider.

In addition to the commute, I studied mobile device use at the workplace and found that co-workers enjoyed on-demand streaming platforms and YouTube "media snacks" in ways that were more meaningful and customizable than the breakroom television. Employees took their breaks together without concern for the broadcast schedule.

Instead, they gathered together around a mobile phone and accessed on-demand content that they all enjoyed as a reward for completing a task.

And employees also used their mobile devices as a quick reference tool when they were discussing popular culture around the watercooler. Out-of-the-loop colleagues were able to join the conversation thanks to a text-messaged link that provided an example of the topic under discussion.

Like the commute and the break room, waiting rooms are public spaces that mobile phones have transformed. Waiting rooms have long been a reminder of social hierarchies, as those with money and power rarely wait. The rest of us can assert the value of our time through the use of mobile games. Mobile games (or casual games) are simplistic, consisting of repetitive actions performed over time in small increments without end. People can earn incredible scores, achievements, and even virtual cities in their downtime

Communities have developed that celebrate the achievements within mobile games, and special rewards are given for the creativity they display. In these communities, the games become the shared culture that bring people together and keep them socializing online for years.

But the benefits of mobile devices extend far beyond commutes, offices and waiting areas -- they apply to living rooms, too.

Typically, the person who controlled the remote dictated the evening's entertainment. Mobile screens provide options for those who are forbidden from touching the remote and may just keep the family all in the same room. Mobile devices also multiply the entertainment options and even offer mobile apps that act as competing remotes to stealthily change the channel at commercial breaks.

Mobile phone users are not the only ones capitalizing on these in-between moments, though.

Technology companies and entertainment studios have created a "procrastination economy" designed to monetize this downtime. I developed this term to describe the mobile apps, streaming video content and software designs that target consumer's in-between moments spent on mobile devices.

We need to pay attention to the design of algorithms, subscriptions services and micropayment structures that attempt to channel our mobile device use into transactions, because mobile devices have made our in-between moments as valuable to brands and advertisers as they have to harried multitaskers.

For our children, mobile phone etiquette and awareness of the procrastination economy should be taught by parents, educators and mentors in the same ways we teach social graces, civics and professionalism. I'm inspired by research that calls for us to emphasize the opportunities these technologies offer instead of reverting to the same tired finger-wagging.

And there is already positive momentum in this direction. Technology companies and regulators are beginning to think about the design of software ethically and to develop guidelines that make networked communication productive instead of predatory. These conversations and adjustments are familiar as they accompany all new technologies.

Discussion and debate about the "proper" way to use mobile phones is important, but reasonable conversation about the technology must account for context. Doing so will alert us to the fact that mobile devices have made our downtime the new prime time.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
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