Friday, October 25, 2013

TV Spots Increasingly Feature the American Family Laden with Mobile Devices

The holidays are in the air and I can't help but notice the ads on TV for the new connected devices and computers.  The American family, whether white or black, seem to be portrayed as laden down with technology these days wherever they are. Whether the fam is out and about in the streets or around the kitchen, everyone has a device.  Dogs seem the only family members that are not packing a device, but that will happen too (they have their own entertainment channels now).

Watch the commercial

The most disturbing commercial is the one with the family out in the street on Halloween (image above). There they are, all decked out in elaborate Star Wars costumes each with a tablet, smartphone, or even a smartwatch.  The kid is double-fisted with tech (I think so much so his candy bag is tied to his costume) - oh yeah, and they are standing 2 feet from each other mapping out what houses are giving out the "good" candy.  Instead of Trick-o-Treating,  our modern family is starring down at their devices.  There is something sad and disturbing about the whole scene.  Verizon wants us to feel as though we will miss out (or FOMO) on something if we do not have the latest device with the best network in the all times blah blah blah.  Notice the youngest child has to be strapped to Daddy because Pops needs his hands free to use his smartphone.  

I don't think Verizon is doing anyone any favors by featuring their products in use on a night like Halloween.  How many kids will get hit by cars or injured by starring down at their devices while navigating driveways, sidewalks, streets, and traffic (in the dark)?  I think everyone could leave the devices at home and let the night be its own experience and entertainment, but maybe I am showing my age.  Really, I am not advocating you do or don't do anything, but rather pointing out how technology and service providers are inserting themselves and their products into every facet of your life.

I am a believer in technology and work with it professionally to some extent each day (hey, I'm the Connected Librarian!), but there is a time and place for it. I just had a face to face conversation with an undergraduate student in my office.  The student drops by my office once a week or so to talk cars.  During our conversation today he checked his phone at least five times during our conversation.  I notice this device distraction anytime I have a conversation with a student outside of class.  A few years ago, if I checked my watch in front of somebody I was having a conversation with it would be considered rude.

Of course, it is not just young people distracted by tech, there are plenty of my 30-40 year-old peers and colleagues who obsessively check their phones for updates, texts, or whatever. I find it annoying if not completely rude to limit your attention to a conversation or a person/people right in front of you to turn to social media updates or whatever is happening on the internet.

Those digital conversations will be preserved and available for you to consume at any time unlike the conversation that is happening live and unrecorded in front of you.  I suspect that the same lack of attention is occurring in the American family so much so that we now have individuals (primarily kids and young adults) burying themselves in the digital world because they don't have the social tools to fare in the analog world they live in.  Those in higher education see some freshmen (or first year) students come to college each year to almost immediately disengage from campus and escape into a RPG (Role Playing Game). They lasts for one semester before Mom and Dad come to take them back home or they survive on academic probation for another semester before being sent home for good.  National Public Radio (NPR) had a recent story about a refuge and recovery center for youth addicted to technology which can be read and heard here.

So, now that we are in the latter lifespan of handheld tech devices (mobile phones, tablets, iPods), what do you think will happen to the level of engagement once we enter the world of wearable tech devices like Google Glass and Smartwatches?

What say you?  Do mobile devices belong in every facet of our lives or are there situations, places, and times they do not belong?  Is there some protocol for the use of mobile devices in society today?  Should there be more?  How do you think we will interface with the analog world around us once plugged-in to information and media with our hands free?

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.

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