I recently finished reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and while reading it a question sprung into my mind. Has the advent of the mobile phone actually adversely impacted on overall social interaction? Reading the book was a general reminder of how much things have changed in many ways in the intervening 65 or so years since it was written but I really noticed how much more people from that era were required to interact face to face. As someone who has lived his entire adult life with a mobile phone it’s hard to remember what it was like B.P. (Before Phones).
There are many instances in the book where the characters turn up off the road into one town or another and need to find somebody. As this was long before everybody had a mobile phone and also before many people had a landline, tracking somebody down involved going to places they might be, workplaces, bars, coffee shops etc. or finding their friends and relatives and having a conversation to see where they might be or leaving a message for them. This in turn created many more incidental interactions between people which inevitably led to further conversation, spreading of ideas, sharing of information and ideas and general shooting of the breeze.
I began to wonder how much less of this takes place now, simply because if we want to get hold of somebody then all we need to do is call their mobile. Now clearly this has many, many advantages and conveniences. But on the other hand how much has it reduced our random, face-to-face incidental interactions and by proxy our social skills? How many potentially interesting conversations with mutual friends, family, acquantainces and other intermedieries in relationships which could well be beneficial no longer take place because we can always talk to somebody directly? Or let’s face it probably not talk to them directly, but rather text, Facebook or WhatsApp them because we don’t have time?
I’m not suggesting that the mobile phone isn’t an incredibly useful tool. But I also wonder what chance meetings, conversations, discussions and connections no longer take place as a result.
As an aside, I would also love to know if “where are you?” is now the most commonly used three word phrase. So many mobile phone conversations at some point contain the query “where are you?” which must surely have been a relatively seldom used question before we all carried one.