After a stressful week, you make plans to see your friends and hang out for a bit. You’re then lucky enough to find a table at a packed bar. As you wait for your drinks to arrive, silence takes over your group. You look up and take in the scene: of the four of you, two are hunched over looking at their phone screens. Your other friend starts an awkward conversation with you while the others remain lost in their mobile devices.
After your friend asks a question, you think about your answer, but before you can say anything you see them reach into their pocket to check their phone. You say what you were going to say, but you feel like you’re competing with the alerts lighting up the screen. Then it hits you. You’re actually alone. You’re surrounded by your friends, yet they’re miles away. You know it’s impolite, but you inevitably take your phone out and start scrolling or swiping to check what you’ve missed, since you last saw your notifications and apps. Phubbing has taken over your group of friends, and unless you do something, it won’t go away.
The scene is repeated in the same context but with different people all throughout your week. Each moment you’re surrounded by friends, family, even your partner, leads to the same result. It doesn’t matter who started the whole thing, you might not have noticed because you were already on your phone. A chain reaction will lead every person there to look at their phone and ignore the people physically next to them.
This behavior –ignoring the real world and avoiding interaction with those around you– is called phubbing, phone + snubbing. It’s a phenomenon that’s taking over, particularly with the millennial generation. Technology’s rule over the channels of communication came at the price of actual communication.
Marx himself warned the world, almost two centuries ago, about a concept that haunts Continental philosophy: alienation. In 1844 he wrote, “The devaluation of the human world increases in direct relation with the increase in value of the world of things.” While he certainly wasn’t talking about phubbing, the philosopher captured the essence of a world based on an unending array of devices that shape consciousness.
Alienation is a response to the strangeness, disposal, and loss of the purpose of human activity (work). It takes over the individuals and, far from affirming it, actually results in a complete denial of their own nature and purpose within society. Following on this occurrence we have the rise of the internet, the possibility of having a host of telecommunication tools in our pocket, while having the ability of being permanently online. This has resulted in the creation of a escape zone from reality, as well as refusal of human contact and interaction.
This practice is becoming more and more common and is a sad reflection of the state of society. Phubbing might seem as an easy way out for a generation built on an egocentric ideology and instant gratification.
A message on Whatsapp, a Facebook “Like,” or a simple moment of silence can be more than enough reason to lose interest in the people in front of you. You disregard them in exchange for your lit-up phone screen that promises more rewards and stimuli than the world can offer.
The loss of face to face human interaction is an inherent trait of our current decadent era. It’s each person’s obligation to understand the difference between electronic connection and human communication. We need to learn how to use science as a social tool and, above all, to break with the ridiculous blindfold that technology has imposed, keeping us looking down and only speaking with our thumbs.
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Translated by María Suárez