Two years a go, a few months after moving to Scotland, I sent text to my father who is also my doctor, complaining about the constant pain I had on my right thumb. I was wondering if I suffered from arthritis, and was asking for his suggestion what to do with it.
His reply came back quickly, simply saying that I suffered from what he cheekily called SMS-itis. He suspected, and was right, that I spent much time and energy texting people using my mobile phone. I had just moved to Scotland, I missed my friends terribly and was afraid they would soon forget that I exist so I bombarded them with texts every single day. Although my father changed the term, what he meant was I was having what the medicine world calls RSI, Repetitive Strain Injury, an illness concept triggered by both physical and psychosocial stressors which leads one to feel pain on a certain area (mainly arms) which is worse during activity.
My treatment was easy: stop using my thumb so much! I did follow his suggestion. But I couldn’t possibly stop texting friends and family back home, so I learned to use my index finger, even my left hand, to satisfy the urge to text others.
Although my thumb is okay now, my other (and worse) obsession is still not healed completely. It got to a point where I was busy texting Ecky and vice versa all the time while mr.mck and Ecky’s then boyfriend were sitting next to us respectively, and we didn’t realise it until both complained that we had been ignored them the whole time.
Last week The Sunday Times dedicated a whole page discussing about what they call OMD – Obsessive Mobile Disorder – and the dread disease of CPA – Continuous Partial Attention. The victims, quoted, come to believe that life via mobile might be more interesting than life right in front of them. Sounds familiar, eh?
My father, again, has been telling this old joke for a long time, about people sitting at the dinner table, busy doing things with their mobiles rather than talking to others at the table. You might have heard that John Mayer learned it the hard way, as he got dumped by suddenly-become-very-sexy-when-reach-40 Jennifer Aniston because reputedly he paid more attention to his mobile than to her (and typical John, minutes after they broke up he posted his personal thoughts on Twitter). Aside from Hollywoodland and alarming prospect of seeing Demi Moore’s bum’s picture taken by her beloved husband, you only need to look at the table next to you, and I am sure you would find out there is at least one person drowning in his/her virtual world and completely ignoring his/her partner who’s looking sad, bored, or both. While the OMD + CPA victim is happily sharing his thought to the entire world, he forgets that there is someone who doesn’t know what he thinks since he doesn’t communicate with him.
It got to a point where we start over sharing. Facebook is bad enough by providing space to update our status as well as many other things, but ping, twitter and plurk do not do anything but! While I am ok knowing what my friends are having for dinner or even whether they have something stuck between their teeth, I am not interested in the detail of his “behind-the-toilet-door” activity. Seriously, even in an over sharing world like twitter and plurk, you have to draw a line!
The victims, of course do not realise how annoying their behaviour are. They are sucked so deep sometimes they confuse putting on what’s important first. It is infuriating to have OMD + CPA person in front of you, because simply their attention and focus are not 100% at you and all the conversation is either interrupted or vanished by the presence of SMS, twitter, plurk, facebook, ping, you name it. More than once I have had attended a dinner party where someone was sitting down quietly, playing with his/her phone while others were talking and didn’t look interested in joining the conversation. It is not only rude, but it made me feel that my presence was unwanted and s/he rather talked to his/her dead tiny box rather than to a living and breathing creature right in front of them. It is also confusing, to read someone’s status in plurk as she was celebrating her anniversary with her boyfriend, but chose to happily gloat about what she has got as a present, while I could only imagine her sad lonely boyfriend was sitting on the corner waiting for her to pay attention to him, rather than to the rest of the world.
But if this OMD + CPA behaviour is so annoying, then why do we keep doing it? The Sunday Times comes with a very simple answer: because we are hopelessly addicted. We are wondering why A hasn’t answered our text or what B has been doing he hasn’t been online for 30 minutes. We can’t wait to twit and plurk about our new shopping purchase or about what we feel about Mylie Cyrus. We think the world will stop turning if we leave our mobile behind!
About 4 years a go I was an acute OMD + CPA victim. I thought the company will collapse and my clients will cry if I left my mobile unattended and didn’t solve the problem right there and then, until I was forced to leave it locked in the locker at the gym. After I managed doing it, suddenly I felt a huge burden was lifted up and I was free, even only for 2 hours 3 times a week. I had my own me-time, no interruption, and nothing else mattered but me.
That’s why I don’t like it when people putting their mobiles beside the cutlery when we are out having dinner, because soon the mobiles will start beeping and they will have to excuse themselves (or not), and saying it’s important as it’s work/boss/home/the president, you name it, and we’d stop enjoying each other’s company as the other will start divide his/her attention to someone, somewhere.
Some tech firms in Silicon Valley – the land of the technology Gods – have instituted “topless” meetings – as in laptop-less. Computers and Blackberries were banned in the hope of making participants concentrate on the matters in hand. It has not caught on, just like in Indonesia, where you practically could hear every person’s mobile phone ringing by the time you walk into the meeting room, even the one who presents the meeting has the gut to interrupt his own presentation to answer a phone call….
One UK holiday company has experimented with “mobile-free” package where mobile phone is entirely banned from the premises. I want to know whether their program works.
The Sunday Times, quoted, reported that the editor of Reader’s Digest magazine had overheard a middle-class man on a train talking to his mother in law.
“You love your daughter, I love her. But she’s got to know that she’s out of order,” he said. “She made a very personal comment about my private parts – right in front of the children: ‘Your dad’s got a tiny knob – his (presumably a former boyfriend) was much bigger’. In front of the children!”
Unless you want to be a social outcast and spend the rest of our adulthood exercising your fingers to someone who is interested whether your number 2 is solid or liquid, you might want to buy one of Debretts‘ A -Z Modern Manners.
Remember: people in the flesh deserve more attention than a gadget.
If only if that is easy.
Note: Nigella’s above picture is courtesy of The Sunday Times.