When last did you really LOL? How blackberries reduce real life interaction31/05/2012 # 08:15 # In Press - research # 4 Comments
BlackBerries could be seen as presenting a major force in our lives today, whether involved in segregating physical social interactions or causing our brains to momentarily lose complete focus when that little red light flashes in the corner of the screen. As I was thinking about this topic, my thoughts and opinions got divided in two very different perspectives on the segregating effect a BlackBerry smartphone has, namely: are they segregating us on an interactionist and face-to-face level but are they at the same time perhaps slowly bridging the class divide in South Africa? To begin thinking about these two perspectives, I could ask how many of us reading this article recognise and relate to the sound of a BlackBerry phone receiving a message?
Usually when a BlackBerry smartphone goes off with this tone, almost a whole room of people tend to begin checking their BlackBerries to see whether it is their phone. Even though my phone is usually on vibrate or silent, I still check my phone because it is a BlackBerry creating sound by association, I must say a BlackBerry is definitely unique in creating a stir in a room where people precipitate to check their IM messages. To put this more in perspective, it is becoming a case where we rather tweet about watching a person fall, rather than going to help that person up.
So that being said, how is the smartphone era segregating South Africans? Here, rather than focusing too much on the class divide, I would like to elaborate on the diminishing amount of interaction one has when one has a smartphone. How often is it that we see people in a restaurant or in this very room checking their phone constantly or letting their thumbs run wild on a keypad to reply to IM messages instead of talking to the person or people right in front of them? This I think is one major way that smartphones are currently segregating South Africans. We focus on class and race divides substantially but maybe if the whole country had a BlackBerry nobody would talk face to face so there would be no need to pick on these peripheral markers but obviously class and racial segregation goes deeper than that.
When I look at the amount of people that have a BlackBerry, 15% of the population, it is clear to see a small bridge forming amongst the middle and upper class who tend to own a smartphone. When I first saw a BlackBerry years ago, it was only known as a business phone. Who knew years later that 15% of the population would be business people! Of course, I’m joking here but this shows that throughout the years that smartphones have been progressing, a gap between classes was bridged through the use of a phone. Now it is not seen as an upper class business phone anymore but a phone for all – a phone that even a 13- year old operates and demands.
There are many jokes circulating about how a BlackBerry is no longer a smartphone because of the massive amounts of people that use it. One of them being: when is a smartphone no longer a smartphone? When it’s a BlackBerry! I know that MY first phone was an Alcatel and then a Nokia 3310, and all I ever did was play snake. But if we look at our youth now, that is since the dawn of Mxit up until now (with BlackBerry Messenger as the latest popular instant messaging tool), they interact more on a phone and social media than that they develop real, face-to-face interactions. Interaction on a phone is more important than interacting in public and face-to-face. This is I think one of the major but least focused on ways in which smartphones segregate South Africans. With the integration of Twitter and Facebook as well as instant messaging sites on smartphones, it will become harder to cut this constant phone fixation that smartphone users have. For now this could be the only problem but once television becomes integrated onto a phone, well, you will see the top of people’s heads more often than their full face!