Could it be–like movie-going during the Great Depression–that mobile phones offer the same escape from reality in hard times? Are we becoming a nation–a world–of digital nomads wandering a bleak desert with no horizon in sight?
I couldn’t help feeling today at the Mall, as I watched mobiles walking, texting, playing games and tweeting, that phones can be isolated communication tools, filling emotional gaps in our lives
As I meandered around the mall, I watched a man with an iPhone in one hand, his young daughter in the other. He stared and interacted with his mobile device in front of Macy’s. He had a blank look on his face as he gazed at the colorful screen while his daughter patiently waited. Perhaps he was reading a text or email message, maybe a web page. I didn’t get close enough to watch him engage with his phone.
Next stop. The food court. While I was sending out tweets with photos taken at the Mall’s Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile stores, two teens sat at the next table talking quietly. Every minute or two, the young woman stared at her smartphone and, with one hand, pressed a few buttons, eyes moving quickly from phone to male friend to phone. She held her device in her left hand, the screen always visible to her, occasionally talking with her friend. It was as if she was on a telephone conference call, except one of the parties was replaced by the phone.
Wandering further through the maze of people at the mall, I saw other members of this growing mobile tribe–mostly young people–walking while engaged with their phones. I hoped they’d see the escalator as they approached certain injury. It was as if young mobiles were simultaneously in a digital world while moving through another reality, phones in one hand, eyes fixated on flickering screen images. Artificial reality wasn’t necessary as mobiles time-shifted from phone to mall, mall to phone.
Most of the stores coming into view were empty except for the food court and Starbucks, people imbibing caffeine. Once we were a nation of window shoppers, our noses pressed up against glass, gazing at things we’d like to buy. That’s all changed. The malls have turned into walking lanes with mobile feet and phones. Once we watched movies in dark theaters, staring at large screens, mesmerized by the reality of others. Now we create our own realities on small screens that move with us through malls reminding us of better times to come.