No less than 65 per cent of Britons check their smartphones while out for a meal, according to a new survey by Dixons Retail. And rather than giving their lucky dining companions their undivided attention, over half (53 per cent) of these smartphone checkers admit to talking to as many ten other people during the meal via social media.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are a major interest of smartphone compulsives: according to the survey, two out of three opt for Facebook while one in three prefer tweeting. Checking in, posting photos and updating their status were the most popular activities for the Facebookers.
This is news that some will see as heralding end of western civilization and some simply as a sign of changing times. Once, just a few short-seeming years ago, mobile phones really were just telephones – you made calls with them and that was pretty much it. If you were particularly techy, you might store a few numbers in the device’s address book but that was so fiddly, requiring multiple key presses to spell out names, that few people bothered.
But those days seem increasingly distant. Nowadays the mobile phone has been transformed into the ‘smartphone’. Despite the name, these aren’t really phones with a few extra features any more: they have been transformed into surprisingly powerful pocket computers and cameras that just happen to make phone calls too. It has been calculated that a single modern smartphone contains more computing power than was available to NASA during the 1969 moon landing.
With an iPhone or similar device in your pocket you can visit the Internet, send and receive emails, take photographs, even if we are miles from a laptop or desktop computer. You also have ready access to the continually changing announcements and musings of our friends, actual and virtual, on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. It’s no wonder so many people find it so hard to put down their phones!
I am increasingly a user of social media such as Twitter and what is clear to me is how accustomed regular users get to talking to others online. After a while it no longer seems contrived or artificial. Even if you have never met the people you are talking to on Twitter for example, after a while they start to seem like people you actually know, in some curious virtual way.
We can catch a glimpse of just how natural such behaviour now seems to many in the attitudes of the people featured in the survey. One in four told the researchers that using a smartphone or even a tablet like the iPad round the restaurant table could act as an ice-breaker on a date and one in three said social media could enhance conversation. One in five even say they would be quite happy to pull out their phones and fire up a social media service on a first date.
One in four survey respondents also admitted to talking to the person they were with over social media. Of course this presents the ridiculous image of a couple on a date, sitting round the table, phones out in front of them, tweeting each other rather than opening their mouths. But of course, it ‘s not quite as socially dysfunctional as that: the vast majority of people tweeting or Facebooking friends in the same room as them will be doing so in a playful, ironic way.
Other results present a rather tangled picture. We find, for example, that women are more likely than men to be irritated by a date checking in or tweeting while out with them: almost two out of three women compared to only one in three men. On the face of it, this perhaps isn’t all that surprising: women are traditionally more socially sensitive then men….and yet we also find that women are ten per cent more likely than men to actually get out their phones on a date! But why? What makes a telephone more attractive than the man you are with? And why is it necessary to tell the entire world where you are, that instant? Does it matter that much? Looking at this from the perspective of a divorce lawyer, social media could be used as a very good cover if you aren’t where you are supposed to be! In the virtual world, after all, you can always pretend that you are somewhere else.
The days of actual telephones have never seemed so distant and I wonder as divorce lawyer how many relationship meltdowns might be occurring as a result.