Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse

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In my last post I talked about differences between life in Ecuador versus the United States, focusing on shopping at the grocery store. This time I want to mention a trend just beginning here that reflects a behavioral shift already in full swing in the States.


When we're visiting our daughter in New Jersey we usually find ourselves in Manhattan at some point. Riding the train into the city, walking along the streets, and dining in restaurants it's impossible not to notice how many people are staring at their phones. Or wearing ear buds connected to their phones. On a recent train ride I'm not exaggerating when I report that every single passenger in sight except Cynthia and me was "connected" in some way to a smartphone.

This was of great curiosity to me so I would steal surreptitious glances at the screens of folks nearby to see what they were so interested in. Maybe they were learning a new language--keeping up with current events--taking care of some business during their ride.

Nope. Every single person was either playing a game or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Pinterest or some other form of social media.

On the streets people are transfixed staring at their phones as they shuffle along oblivious to their surroundings. In restaurants almost everyone has their phone perched on the table so they don't "miss anything." At a movie we went to little screens were visible in the dark throughout the theater as fellow attendees were texting away during the previews.

This technology explosion is happening so quickly that I'm honestly having trouble processing it all. On one hand I'm amused and on the other concerned about where we're heading. Here in Ecuador I am the proud owner of a $40 "dumbphone" on which a call is made or received maybe once a week tops. Circumstances occasionally force me to send a text, but in the time it takes me to fumble my way through the process I could have made three calls, gone to the bathroom, and fixed myself a sandwich.

I like to walk around town feeling the sun on my back and the breeze blowing (no, not through my hair). The sights and sounds of my surroundings are always interesting because, well, they are part of my life. But I'm saddened to see what I call the "Zombie Apocalypse," this phenomenon of smartphone addiction already prevalent in the U.S., beginning to take hold in Ecuador as well.

A recent survey in the States revealed that making a phone call is only the sixth most popular use of a smartphone. Surfing the Web, texting, playing games, posting photos and God knows what else all ranked higher. Here you still see most people using their phones for what they were originally intended--talking to someone. But the writing is on the wall.

Walking down the sidewalks I'm starting to encounter folks slowly meandering with that familiar stooped shoulder, downward facing posture. This even happened recently as I came up behind a little indigenous woman in her traditional dress. How mind bending to notice that the phone she was staring at is much nicer than mine! At traffic signals young professionals are hurriedly texting before the light turns green. Ecuador's emerging middle class is eager to own all manner of status possessions, and the latest electronic devices seem to be at the top of the list.

One day I know I'll be forced to either upgrade to a smartphone or risk being left behind and labelled as a hopeless old fogey wallowing in the past. Until then I'll remain blissfully disconnected, fully participating in my life and enjoying face-to-face conversations with interesting people.

So if you need to reach me feel free to call, but be advised I probably won't even have my phone with me. And should you need a quick reply, for God's sake don't send me a text!


Robert said...

jajaja Edd. It is indeed incredible (at least to me) what smartphones have done to "real live social interaction".

The last phone I bought (which was 6 years ago), the salesperson spent almost 12 minutes telling me all about the mega this, the giga that and all the other wonderful things the "Nexus" line of phones could offer me. I just stood there in silence for a full 20 seconds, when I asked (with the most sarcastic tone I could muster), "Will this thing make and receive phone calls? That's pretty much what I'm buying a phone for."

I hate it when I'm with someone having lunch and they whip out their phone to respond to a text. Usually, I just get up and leave.

Edd Staton said...

Robert, we take it a step further and simply don't associate with "phone addicts" to begin with. We and our friends prefer convivial conversations together.