The celebrated viral video designed to make you feel iPhone-guilt gets it all wrong

A scene from viral success story, 'I forgot my phone'.

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.


 

10 comments

  • My bid for the woman of the year is the young woman in the video, putting up with her ignorant "friends". There was a movie a few years ago where a family was visiting the grand canyon, all they did was video it and said that they would watch the video later, says it all.

    Commenter
    anon
    Date and time
    November 13, 2013, 8:10AM
    • I don't see this video as characterising our collective addition to smartphones as an existential crisis, but it is about existential choices.
      Undeniably, how we choose to interact with the real and virtual worlds is changing, and the notion of what is appropriate or valuable to share with others (ranging from intimates to absolute strangers) is highly contested. Is it a good thing to know what a former friend fed her cat, if you miss hearing what your lover is telling you about their day because you're retweeting?
      This short movie holds a mirror up to our evolving behaviour, and Kasey Edwards' response is one interpretation of what we see reflected there. For, me a blanket response like "Using technology isn't turning away from life" is a big assumption. For some people, the use of technology is absolutely a way to turn away from life. We all fall somewhere on the continuum of technology adoption, but we know for a fact that some people, young people in particular, are vulnerable to over-investment in their online identity, experiences and community. (And by 'fact' I mean the rare but tragic extremes of cyber-bullying for instance).
      Just because Socrates said it first, doesn't mean it's wrong. "Everything in moderation" is also an ancient concept, but remains no less true in the context of technology than it did for Bacchanalia!

      Commenter
      kt spring
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 13, 2013, 8:37AM
      • I agree. I feel that rather than being shut off from the world, I am connected in a myriad of ways to people whom, without technology, I would have fallen out of touch with years ago.

        Now its not like I have an ongoing two way conversation with all of these people, but occasionally the random catch up occurs and its very fulfilling.

        In the "real world" - for example at a cafe or a dinner party. The smartphone can be a great way of answering questions... "who wrote that song...?" "what was that actor's name?" How many times have we been faced with questions like this, only to agonise over it and wake up at 2 am screaming the name when you finally remember.

        YES they can be distracting and some people are rude and don't know when to put their phones down - this in my eyes is more of an etiquette problem - there have always been rude people and they always will be.

        don't denounce the tools because of the misuse of a few users. that's like saying none of us should have cars because they can be dangerous. Well most people are able to drive cars quite safely, its just a small few who drive dangerously.

        Commenter
        Adrian
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 13, 2013, 8:38AM
        • my children will be going to university to learn a new skill....teaching people comunication skills face to face...i bet you not, there will be a big need for this in the future...my kids are going to rolling in bitcoins.....

          Commenter
          skeptic
          Location
          perth
          Date and time
          November 13, 2013, 8:46AM
          • I agree with Plato about people losing the ability to remember things as easily now as they once did back before writing. Before writing ruined it all, we could remember whole oral histories without needing any prompting. Now we can't remember what we need from the local market without consulting our shopping list. Sadly, because of writing, we have forgotten that we used to remember much more back in the day.

            Commenter
            Pericles
            Date and time
            November 13, 2013, 9:39AM
            • Yes, sometimes using a phone is good or acceptable.

              And sometimes its not. Hence the video with the times that its not...

              Commenter
              asdf
              Date and time
              November 13, 2013, 10:23AM
              • So... what is this piece about?

                how does it 'get it all wrong'? by not telling explicitly in two minutes how to 'fix' the problems? If it's a film/doco/art it doesn't 'have' to do anything. you only need watch it. If you get from the film that people are fckn rude and shouldn't use their phones in this manner - full attention to it - in a social gathering and exclude the people around you, fine. That's a message you've taken, an dmay now use in ways such as the phone-stack, the first-person-to-use-their-phone-pays, the put-them-all-on-silent, whatever. These were all devised without this 2-min film.

                If what you get from the film is that it reminded you of something where Mums got a sledging then don't criticise the film based on a) the many uses of technoology and b) people are ignorant of how Mums' days go.

                Frankly I think the points made about how useful technology is are great - I have in the last week used the internet for banking, shopping, christmas, a fancy dress costume, buying movie tickets, checking the release date of a video game, watching youtube, using facebook.
                However prior to smartphones I would not expect a friend to spend half of a have-a-coffee talking on their phone to do something non-urgent and not important, so I personally feel that they don't need to do it silently with a phone screen between our faces either.
                If something is important AND urgent nobody minds you doing it in a social setting. If it's not - like watching youtube videos, paying bills, chatting in realtime on facebook... what's your opinion on that?
                I think that's what the 2-min movie is ABOUT. What do you THINK, how do you FEEL. "technology is great movie is wrong" seriously? wrong?

                Commenter
                Raida
                Location
                chewing salty razors
                Date and time
                November 13, 2013, 10:59AM
                • the movie has no real-life usable conclusion, therefore it's wrong? really? you not a big art/movie person? the movie's not, in my opinion, you would of course need the opinions of the movie makers themsevles, to 'make you feel iphone guilt' I think that if you feel guilt for ignoring and excluding a friend, regardless of the way you do it, an dit takes a little movie for you to feel that guilt... wel you're the one feeling it. I'm sure it's not because you now feel it's taboo to use your iphone, but because of the impact on your friend? Do you feel guilt for some imagined social shaming you didn't know you should feel? Or is it, simply, honestly, a case of "I don't think I should do that to my friends it makes them unhappy"

                  Commenter
                  Raida
                  Location
                  chewing salty razors
                  Date and time
                  November 13, 2013, 11:05AM
                  • "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."

                    Just checking - "technological barriers" - that was meant to be a joke, right? Or maybe just a Freudian slip? =P

                    Commenter
                    meness
                    Date and time
                    November 13, 2013, 1:08PM
                    • Not sure about the author's take on this video - it appears to be addressing other commentator's reaction to it rather than the video itself. The message I saw wasn't that the smartphone technology was bad, merely our current obsession with it. The video's poignancy forr me is that the protagonist herself only understood this when she lost her own phone. To draw other online technologies into the debate is purely the author's contstruct not the video's.

                      Similarly supporting your argument with Plato's dialogue is a bit disingenuous too. Writing had been around in Greek and other cultures too for many centuries before Socrates and I don't think either philospers were calling for a return to strictly oral communication. I see it more of expressing the loss of the oral story telling tradition of Homer and theat the dedicated scholar would need to learn - I mean really learn it. Also the fact that a philosophical point of view, when expressed in front of one's peers can be argued, modified, improved or even discredited, where as therecan be a temptation to take the written word at face value. Socrates goal was to teach by arguing the point with his students, not writing it down and handing it to them in a nice digestable text - that's how we do it now...

                      Commenter
                      Couldn't Resist
                      Date and time
                      November 13, 2013, 3:32PM
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