A scene from viral success story, 'I forgot my phone'.
A film lasting just a smidge over two minutes has become the least likely blockbuster of the year. ‘I forgot my phone’ has been heralded as, ‘The Best Video on the Internet Today’, ‘A lesson in self control’, and ‘Smart, poignant, depressing’
Written by Charlene deGuzman and Miles Crawford, the film highlights the sorrowful state of humanity because of our collective addiction to — wait for it — smartphones.
According to the film, our phones sap the richness from life — snuggling in bed, intimate moments with our lovers and socialising with friends are all ruined because we can’t tear our zombie-like eyes from our screens.
The fun-sized blockbuster has been shared 32 million times on YouTube.
There’s no doubt that the film taps into some deep-seated anxieties about how technology affects social life. In their 2011 report, Digital Australians — Expectations about media content in a converging media environment, the Australian Communication and Media Authority found similar concerns.
Unprompted, many of the respondents to ACMA’s focus groups said that technology had killed the art of conversation. 'People just don’t talk to each other [face to face] these days’ and 'They don’t know how to communicate face to face’ were common concerns.
But how valid are the concerns raised in I forgot my phone?
Aside from the irony of millions of people disconnecting from those around them to watch the online video and then sharing it with their friends (again online), there are one or two problems with this whole Technology-Has-Ruined-Everything concern.
The first is that the same argument has been repeated since Plato’s time. In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates bang on about the evils of writing. The new-fangled writing technology, Plato warned, would be the end of memory. If people could just write stuff down, then they wouldn’t have to remember things.
According to Socrates, who’s usually Plato’s mouthpiece, ‘this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves.’
There has been similar hand-wringing about more recent technologies such as electricity, cars and television ruining all that is good in society.
Often these anti-technology rants are directed at bothersome young people, but in the case of smartphones, people have been open-minded enough to extend their condemnation to mothers as well. Earlier this year, Dear Mom On The iPhone, a letter that castigated mothers for their selfish social media habits provoked an online chorus of ‘What about the children?!’ around the globe.
In the rush to join the anti-smartphone hysteria, nobody stopped to consider that perhaps mothers don’t need to witness every ‘precious moment’ that their child goes down a slide.
Or that maybe the ‘mom on the phone’ was engaging in the only adult interaction she'd had all day, or that a smartphone allows mothers to work AND mother at the same time.
In many respects mobile devices have made us more connected than ever before. I’m so connected now that I know what somebody I went to school with (and haven’t spoken to for 20 years) cooked for brunch for her cat on the weekend.
And when it comes to face-to-face interaction, let’s not romanticise it as a universally enriching experience. With Christmas on our doorstep, I’m sure I’m not the Lone Ranger in thinking how technological barriers have done wonders for some relationships.
Perhaps the biggest failing of the ‘I forgot my phone’ film is that it simply has no answer to anything. Basic services, from banking to shopping are done online — or have an online component.
Mobile phones, tablets and other technologies have been woven in to the very fabric of social life and work life. Using technology isn’t turning away from life. It is simply that this is how many people live now.
Yes, there are times when it is not appropriate to whip out your smartphone. Selfies at funerals, for example. And sure, it’s frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is simultaneously pimping their Facebook profile or placing bids on eBay. But let’s not confuse poor manners with an existential crisis.
Worrying about the effects of mobile technology on social skills is a little like worrying about the effects of writing on memory. Despite our anxieties, human social interaction seems to have survived technologies — and will endure for a while yet.