Recently, we spent a lovely holiday in the south of France.

One thing that struck both SpouseMouse and me was the proliferation of people staring at their digital devices. Now that mobile connections are available on flights from start to finish, some people were attached to their screens from boarding to landing.

While we were there I ran across an article which warned about today’s obsession with non-stop digital connection, especially at mealtime. (I’ve already posted about a French etiquette expert who says that mobile devices are not invited to the table, where good food and conversation take pride of place.) The article reported on a study that showed social interaction, empathy and conviviality declined severely when dining partners continued checking messages, texting and surfing.

Nearly a year ago, I read an article on digital addiction in the French newsweekly Marianne: ‘Chéri(e), lâche ton portable!’ (‘Darling, put down your mobile!’) which appeared in the 25 – 31 July 2014 issue on pages 18 – 21. Highlights follow.

All too real cartoons

Marianne featured three tragicomic cartoons by way of illustration.

The main one showed four people sitting together in silence on their mobiles (pp 18-19):

Man No. 1: Hello. My name is Philippe and I’m a mobile telephone addict. (Tap, tap)

Man No. 2: Hello, Philippe. (Tap, tap)

Woman: Hello, Philippe 🙂 (Tap, tap)

Man No. 3: Hi, Philippe. (Tap, tap)

The second had a couple in bed with the husband responding to a message (p. 20):

Wife: It’s your mistress.

Husband: Not at all … It’s the office …

Wife: No … Your iPhone is your mistress …

The third shows a multi-storey house with dialogue coming from the uppermost room (p. 21):

Once again you’ve taken the side of the bed where you can get a connection!

The problem

A Frenchwoman, Carol, told Marianne that her boyfriend receives audible notifications of messages at all hours (pp. 18-19):

He sleeps with his phone; he wakes up with his phone. During the night it’s ‘ding, ding, ding!’ on the phone, on the computer and on the tablet.

Portable devices have become the adult version of cuddly toys or security blankets. Seventy-four per cent of the French say they never leave the house without them! That gem comes from an Ipsos survey taken in 2013 for Google (pp. 19, 21).

Furthermore, people are using their phones and tablets as escape routes from boring conversations (p. 19).

Even worse, the article says that a survey done in England showed that 62% of women use their smartphones during sexual intercourse (p. 20)!

Marianne interviewed one phone addict who was slowly realising that he has a phone problem. Business school student Jean-Manuel, aged 22, said (p. 20):

I no longer wait for my phone to vibrate; I look at it all the time. Even when I’m having a phone conversation, I hold it away from my face so that I can glance at the screen. I’m never separated from it.

During my student trip to Budapest, I was constantly on WhatsApp to communicate with my girlfriend who was in France. As it was non-stop, I turned down invitations to parties and missed moments of conviviality with the other students … I couldn’t even appreciate my mates who came to visit me.

Whilst travelling, I went to McDonald’s rather than to traditional restaurants just for the Wifi. It was horrible.

Online games are also an issue. Stéphanie Bertholon is a psychologist and cofounder of the Centre de traitment du stress et de l’anxiété in Lyon. She has a patient who prefers to play Candy Crush rather than put his daughter to bed at night. He realised (p. 20):

it gave him a rather pitiful picture of himself as a father …

Yet:

he is completely dependent [on the phone].

Let’s hope that, one year on, he is on the road to recovery.

Two researchers who have been studying phone addicts’ behaviour — sociologist Francis Jauréguiberry and anthropologist Jocelyn Lachance — have found, independently of each other (p. 21):

– No digital addict will make a clean break with a portable device. Although digital addicts talk about it, not one has done it yet.

– No corporate executive is ever completely disconnected.

– Rather than turning off, digital users tend to get more involved with their devices over time. Mastery of applications becomes increasingly more important to them.

Lachance, the anthropologist, indicated that loved ones can become co-dependents in this behaviour:

It’s not work that encourages [the addict] to stay connected. Friends and family cannot admit that they can no longer interact with these people.

Strangely:

The ultimate argument [for staying connected] is death. ‘What if something happens to him?’ ‘What if something happens to us?’

Who will know — and when?

Practical solutions

With summer holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to try to break the habit of being online all the time. Marianne‘s interviewees offered the following suggestions (p. 21).

Jean-Manuel, the aforementioned student: When you’re having drinks with friends, everyone has to put his mobile in the middle of the table. The first one who cracks and reaches for his phone has to buy the next round of drinks … Okay, fine, but we stopped playing that game. It made everyone too nervous.

Stéphanie Bertholon, the psychologist: First thing: I recommend stopping notification of messages. Then, before taking your smartphone to the beach, ask: ‘Why am I doing this?’ Above all, it’s about discarding a ritual in order to control your behaviour.

Another suggestion — especially good for parents and other family elders to impose — comes from Sabine Lochmann, director general for BPI Group, mother of three and wife of 25 years (emphasis mine):

On holiday, my husband and I pay fines if we work or talk about work. Our eldest daughter is in charge of the kitty. And when we all spend time together, I ask everyone to lay down their ‘arms’, meaning portable phones, and put them in a basket when they enter the house.

It was shocking to see so many airline passengers on our return flight from Nice to London using these smartphones and tablets non-stop. They even missed the beauty of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) and the Esterel (the Alpes-Maritimes nearest the coast). I’ve seen both several times on take-off; such natural beauty never fails to captivate. I could not believe the number of people who preferred gazing at a tiny glowing screen!

Conclusion

Parents and grandparents should not hesitate to ask — demand — that mobile devices be left behind or put in a basket during family gatherings. And, unless there is something urgent (i.e. doctor on call), they should stay put until the end of the meal or party.

Let’s recapture the lively art of conversation! What better time to start than during summer holiday?

Advertisements