Is the smartphone killing off society's social skills?

Summary:Did you ever notice how sometimes things can seem absolutely normal, until you look around and realize you could be in a Doctor Who episode?

MWC

Did you ever notice how sometimes things can seem absolutely normal, until you look around and realize you could be in a Doctor Who episode?

Last night was like that. It was late and I was at a local pub celebrating a friend's birthday. I'm not much of a pub creature. I sowed my wild oats a long time ago. Sowed them, harvested them, cooked them, and made meal out of them. But I'm -- quite thankfully -- past those days.

As a result, I only find myself in a pub-like atmosphere on those few occasions when I didn't plan far enough in advance to have a good excuse to get out of a social event. That means I manage to avoid having to go out on the town more than once every two or three months.

I've noticed this Doctor Who feeling before, but I've now gathered enough data to be pretty clear on its reliable repeatability. Humans in social situations no longer socialize.

Instead, they've become cyborgs, attached to their tiny screens, reading and googling and facebooking and amazoning and IMDBIng and twittering rather than talking to the people they go out to meet.

It's the oddest thing. Pubs used to be places people went to socialize and meet other people. Now they're Internet cafes with teeny-tiny computers everyone brings with them.

If you look around, you'll see most heads buried in the glow of the small screen. When one person talks to another, the one with her head in the screen will mumble "uh huh" a few times. If this goes on long enough, the speaker will turn to her tiny screen.

Then, a few minutes later, the first screenhead will pop up with a picture or something to show on her screen. It could be an actor on IMDB, a picture of a concert, an infant niece or nephew, or — the crowd pleaser of crowd pleasers — a kitten or a puppy.

All of a sudden, everyone will look up from their screens to look at the proffered picture. The hand holding the showcase screen will do an arc, everyone will nod or smile appropriately, and then — boom — heads back into their screens.

This can go on for hours.

Once in a while, someone will get up for a drink or a leak or a snack (or to get replacement batteries for their e-cigarette — another sign of the Doctor Who world we live in now).

But, mostly, everyone just looks into their screens.

We don't go out to socialize any more. We go out to be in the same room as other people while we all jack into the Matrix. One of these days, we're not going to bother even going out. As long as there are delivery services, we'll be okay. But once everyone gets jacked in, we'll all just wither and die.

And then we'll find that the smartphone didn't just kill off our social skills, it killed off our will to live.

Tune in tomorrow, for our next all-new episode, when The Doctor discovers that our wearable technology is giving all humans skin rashes.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Mobility

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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