The sad lives of smartphone slaves

Too many people experience life through tiny device screen, and that ain't living

We've all seen the funny YouTube videos of a person walking into a mall fountain or a glass door because they were so engrossed in their smartphones. And most of us saw that commercial last year -- I think it was for Verizon, but I'm not even sure, to be honest -- of a young guy walking out of his home and onto the street without even having to stop playing his video game because he could transfer it from his computer right to his smartphone! The overall vibe of the commercial was that being able to do this -- "this" being ignoring the reality all around you while you walk around and play a video game on a tiny screen -- was somehow "cool." Of course, it' not cool. It's incredibly dorky, and the young guy in the commercial -- at least to me -- seemed like a pathetic, myopic loser with no social skills or appreciation of life around him. As for the "funny" YouTube videos, it seems that "distracted walking" is becoming less of an opportunity for us to enjoy some good ol' slapstick comedy and more of a physical danger for the people who can't bear to glance up from their electronic devices. However, the saddest example of smartphone addiction involves not people glued to their 3.5-inch screens while in transit or at a restaurant, but when they insist on experiencing a special event through the puny prism of their personal devices. There's a great article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about concert-goers videotaping shows and then posting to Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites -- all in an effort to "capture" that special moment and, more importantly, share it with the world. The problem is, there's really only one way to truly "capture" a moment, and that's to focus on it in real life and absorb it all in your head and heart. Even a professionally produced video isn't going to provide an experience remotely comparable to actually being there. Does anyone doubt that attending The Band's farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1976 was a far superior experience than watching footage of the show in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Waltz"? "Waltz" is considered by many to be the greatest live-concert film ever made, yet watching it -- even on a larger-than-smartphone screen -- is simply not the same as having been there. Really, how could it be? Yet people with far inferior video equipment and talent will waste precious minutes at expensive shows in order to document the event for themselves and others. But rather than enhance a memory, I'd argue that smartphone (and tablet) videos from concerts diminish the memory. Can the person who videotaped this Lady Gaga concert look at the footage and say it truly recaptures the moment? Or genuinely conveys the awesomeness of the show to people who weren't there? I like what Ed Robertson, lead singer of Barenaked Ladies, said in the Journal-Constitution article about fans using their devices to video instead of just watching and enjoying the show:

"I find it very, very strange. I think people are far more engaged with their gadgets than the place they're in and the experience they could be having. I love the Foo Fighters and went to see them. Dave [Grohl] goes out on this long stage, and it's just a sea of people holding up phones and cameras. Why don't you make eye contact and not worry about tweeting about it? I hope the novelty of this connection and technology will wear out and people will realize that the authentic experience is so much more rewarding."

I do too, Ed. Perhaps the only chance of that happening is to develop an app for it. When the device owner begins videotaping that special moment they're about to miss in real time, the app could say, "Hey, put the stupid phone down and live a little. You'll be glad you did."

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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