Let’s roll back our minds a decade to a time when people were not constantly on their smartphones. Facebook isn’t in our everyday lives for another two years and Twitter will hatch a year after that in 2006.
Smartphones aren’t even called smartphones — they’re just dumb “cellular phones” that do rudimentary text messages without multimedia attachments like images and video.
That barren time in technology was still a difficult one of wide, generational, gaps when it came to the rapid, everyday, adoption of technology.
Those of us who grew up on payphones and single-line telephones in the home, were often put off, and perhaps, even offended by the younger among us who insisted that their cellphones were not just extensions of communication, but a very connectoid of being human.
When I was teaching at a major technical university on the East Coast way back when, I implored my students to not just put their phones on vibrate — at that time in the technological evolution, the vibration of the mechanism in the phone was just as loud as a ringtone — but to actually turn off their phones during the few times other students were giving a formal, graded, presentation in class.
When students complained that they were unable to actually “turn off” their phones, I’d tell them to pull the battery — you could do that back then — because, I warned them, “if your phone rings, or rattles, during a coursemate’s presentation, you lose participation points on your grade for being rude.
The students were furious with me for disconnecting their lives for 30 minutes every month, but I felt their wrath was worth it to help preserve the sanctity of human people paying attention to each other in a room together, in real-time, instead of simply watching a screen.
Today, there would be a mutiny in a classroom if I asked for the same “no interruption” respect. Students text and use their phones “to check the time” all day long and all during class as well. Times have changed, but not for the better.
Over the weekend, I watched a former NFL football coach discussing the same condition. He said, 10 years ago, if a player was caught using a cellphone during a team meeting, he would fine that player $10,000.00USD right there and that penalty would stick.
Today, the coach said, you can’t get away from smartphones in locker rooms. The coach went on to lament that players today not only text during meetings, they’re using Twitter during the game and a halftime, too!
There’s always been a clash between live performer and audience when it comes to technology in the empty space. Ten years ago, when cellphones would ring during a show, some live actors would dramatically break character, stop the show, smash the fourth wall and curse out the audience offender — and get applause in kind return for the act from the other audience observers.
Today, as evidenced in this sad Tweet from Patrick Stewart — currently starring on Broadway in Waiting for Godot with Ian McKellen — nothing has changed and everything is the horrible same with rude audience members:
I shudder to think how the classroom, the locker room and the live stage will change with the next technological advance.
Google Glass will give a whole new meaning to being disconnected while connecting and, with the rise of lifecasting, all rules of order and memes of respect and the want for genuine interaction will disappear from the immediate and be replaced with the urgent, generic, self-broadcast to a world of the similarly disengaged, empty, audience.