The “new hybrid space” that is being created by our behaviors and use of mobile technology is a fact, but I don’t see it as a negative, it’s just a reality. I am from the mid-west, and lived for ten years or so in Chicago. Chicago is a terrific city, and the people there are genuinely friendly. I have known many people from the East, New York and Boston in particular who have visited Chicago and experience genuine friendliness; something which is hard to come by, especially in New York City. In Chicago, if you ask for directions you usually get them; in New York you are more likely to get the “finger.”
I lived in Chicago in the 1990’s, before cell phones, PDA’s, and mobile technology took over the planet. And, even though, as I described earlier, Chicago is a friendly city it wasn’t like everybody knew your name, helped you with your groceries, gave you rides, it wasn’t a utopia of communication and openness. There seems to be an underlying tone to this article, and many others I have read on similar subjects, that the mobile tech movement is destroying some Shangri-La type existence. I don’t buy it.
People are at there core, and by their very nature cautious beings. I am certain that this is part of the Darwinian survival inclinations that are deeply rooted in all animal life forms on the planet, especially humans. If you are an outgoing individual, you will still be that way, even though you have a cell phone, and use it while you walk down the street, or ride in a cab. Sure you might not talk to the cab driver if you are on the phone, but most conversations, at least from my experience with big city cab drivers, are not very poignant, are mostly small talk, and usually very difficult to understand.
So, if my option is to be able to talk to a colleague, a friend, or my wife instead of making small talk with a person I will never see again, about things neither of us cares about, I choose the former. Mobile communication technology is simply another tool that makes us more efficient and allows us to reach out to people, regardless of physical location.
As a mobile technology is a tool, we all have the choice to use it or not. We can actively participate in our surroundings, or not, but we have always been able to do that. We could check out long before there were cell phones. One could argue that mobile technology has probably done more to help the shy and introverted than it has to harm the sacred “metropolis,” and its members. Those who don’t like face-to-face interaction, now have several alternative ways that allow them to participate with the world on their own terms, or at least terms that they are more comfortable with.
Siegel and Schore argue very strongly and support the concept of face-to-face interaction between developing infants and their primary caregivers, and as a father of two, I agree fully with their observations and assertions, but I don’t really see where it applies to adult communication. Most infants, toddlers, and even children under 10 that I know don’t have or rarely use mobile technology. Sure, my seven year old has asked me for a cell phone, but he doesn’t need one, and rarely uses one.
Adults, because of their early neurobiological development are capable of communicating with each other though mediated methods equally as well as they are face-to-face. There may be times, during a negotiation, or an interview where it is beneficial to infer additional information from the conversation, where a face-to-face meeting may benefit one or both parties. However, in general, for everyday communication via mediated methods are full adequate, and sometimes beneficial for most users.
One of my favorite modes of communication is Instant Messenger. It is quick, free, it requires no small talk, I can check in with someone, ask them a quick question, tell them I can’t talk, and be done with it. I don’t IM my mom, if I want to talk, but if I need an address, or a quick question for someone, it is the perfect mode of communication. Low overhead, easy to ignore, and completely passive if that is what the user desires. Someone can send me IM’s all day, and I am not required to respond if I do not want to.
Of course there are times when you want communication to be up close and personal, but there are probably more times when you don’t. Technology meditated communication is perfect for all those times you don’t.