Is this multi-tasking at its finest? Looking at how we move through our digital world

By Jamie Shea

Walking to class the other day, I had to step onto the grass to avoid a collision with someone who was texting while walking. She stopped, apologized and then immersed herself back into her phone. I looked around, counting four other people in the immediate vicinity doing the exact same thing.

What is it about our phones that are so engaging? With the creation of smartphones, the once-simple cell phone became so much more than a mere calling device. It now encompasses every form of communication imaginable – calling, texting, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat; the list continues for miles. Phones have the unique ability to make distance irrelevant.

In a 2008 study by Ruth Rettie examining how cell phones affect social connections, she examined their social use-value, in terms of capital.

“Mobile phones act as network capital,” Rettie wrote. “Mobile phones increase the value of social networks because they increase opportunities for sociality, and because they enable users to service their relationships more easily, making the interdependence demands of large social networks less onerous.”

Cell phones may help us to sustain our existing relationships, but they undoubtedly also affect the creation of new relationships with those around us in our daily lives. As we remain connected to those who are distanced from us, do we keep ourselves at a distance from those who we see every day? To some extent, that answer is yes.

When we text, we hunch over, stare at that three inch screen with head tilted downward, effectively closing ourselves off to the rest of the world as we walk by.

To be clear, I don’t think cell phones are bad. They are amazing communication tools, and as Rettie puts it, do increase our ability to network. However, their effects on us may be stronger than we may like.

“Mobile phones are network capital not only because they increase the availability of networks, but also because they shape network relationships,” she writes.
It’s this shaping of relationships that concerns me. Texting seems to be taking over our lives. Instead of walking to class and enjoying the sight of the sparkling Pacific, many of us forgo that in favor of the screen of our iPhone.

Why not take the time to appreciate the sight before you and save the texting for when you’re in the basement of Loma with no windows, waiting for class to start?
Which relationships are more important: the long-distance ones, maintained by virtual ties, or the ones with the people around us? When we text and walk, we miss out on countless potential face-to-face interactions. Some balance between the two must be made.

Looking up from your phone isn’t even quite stopping to smell the roses – but at least by looking up occassionally, you’ll see that they are there, even if you don’t stop texting to smell them.