Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Phones ARE more like TV, but not because of new content

It’s not just the addition of content from television which makes mobile phones and PCs the new TVs. There’s a deeper analogy which struck me (and, yes, which I thought I should share... hey, if you don’t like it, change the channel ;)

The historical adoption of TV into the majority of homes seems to have an interesting parallel to what we’re seeing now with technology products – that is, in theory it connected people, but in reality, while it connected some people in a shallow sort of way, it isolated many others deeply. As TV became mainstream – starting in the 1960’s (?) – people probably used the physical presence of others (in the same room watching the same TV) as a way to justify the sedentary act of watching actors be active rather than being active themselves... “It gives the family a chance to be together”. Right. Sure. Family interaction was the benefit of TV. Each family member in the same room doing the same thing, looking in the same direction, laughing at the same time, acknowledging each other’s presence during commercials (thank goodness for ads!), but otherwise, cognitively alone. I don’t doubt that this is actually true (the good parts) for many families who watch the once-or-twice weekly “24” or “Idol” together as a family. I’m more thinking about the every-nightly spud family.

Becoming a “couch potato” was probably an un-recognized issue for a decade, particularly since remote controls didn’t exist (yes – you had to actually get off your butt to change the channel... but there were less than 13 in the US, so the 10 feet you had to walk for each channel change could not happen often enough to be considered exercise, sorry). The couch potatoes germinated there on the couch whether in the presence of others or not (afterall, potatoes are grown in crops of many, not alone), whether they were trying to do other ativities or not. Once people started eating dinner in front of the TV, it was all over...

Which, finally, brings me to the analogy... The Phone Potato. The person who just can’t stop using their phone. For example, during dinner... They’re not just making that “are the kids ok with the babysitter” call... no, they’re just chatting, or texting... You’ve seen them – maybe even in the mirror (yes, you). And the same is true of the Laptop Potato (who, me?).

I am not being critical of the communication aspects of TV or the mobile phone or the web... the speed at which (valuable) information travels across all technology medium is amazing and absolutely beneficial. The part I’m being critical of is the replacement of otherwise social, creative, innovative, physically active and interactive activities between people (or alone) with the anti-thinking behaviors often observed in the Couch Potato, Phone Potato or Laptop Potato (uh oh... I think that last one might be me!). It's is a sad change which just needs to be, well, recognized, before it consumes too much of our lives without adding value or happiness.

The sad part is that I almost always observe the phone potato behaviors in teenagers – probably parallel to the observations in the 60’s, when young people at that time learned couch potato germination and farming as an innate human activity, which it is not - but through young people, it is being sewn into the fabric of modern human existence (i know, too deep).

"I'm the slime oozing out from your TV set"
- Frank Zappa

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