Monday, February 21, 2011

Toys for grown-ups or how about slowing down a little

I had the opportunity to work at World Mobile Congress by mid-February. It looked quite interesting for a global research about nowadays "civilised" society. A research about how addicted we are to technology and its gadgets, to the point of getting to ignore what surrounds us.

I made my mobile phone contract with Movistar a few months ago, over the phone, at a time when my number belonged to another company.Lady Bermudez, the customer service employee who attended me, wanted me to choose my ideal phone from a whole list of technical marvels. Smart phone or BlackBerry, I could have chosen any of them to be included in my contract. Or maybe not any, I don't know much about these things. For me telephones are what their name says: telecommunications devices that transmit and receive sound, most commonly the human voice. (according to Wikipedia). And to Merriam-Webster too, pretty much the same definition. Britannica says: an instrument designed for the simultaneous transmission and reception of the human voice.

Apparently mobile phones are a whole different story, they transmit voice, video and data. You can play games on them, find your way, send and receive money, and God and telecommunications engineers know what. Sincerely, I feel more carefree and free in general with a phone that only serves its original purpose, to talk. I'm not very fond of text messages either as I am more at ease with computers, that offer me the same dimensions, more or less, as a letter size sheet of paper. And I prefer to read on paper rather than on computer screens as I like e-mails more than chat, for allowing me to develop my ideas at a different pace. At the end of the day it looks like it's more a question of time and space: speed and text size. I'd rather go slow than fast and rather long than short. Most probably I belong to the paper cultureand I get addicted to technology applications that remind me of it. Obviously, I am not a busy business person. From their point of view I totally agree with the necessity of smart phones.

Now, back to the congress. At some point I was at a welcome desk and the three girls around me were busy with their phones, buttoning and reading the screen. I felt like an alien, or rather like a normal flesh and bone person among aliens, the busy business world. But somehow I felt comfortably so, floating in my bubble, free to watch the beautiful museum hall and observe the people around me, ready to make eye contact and welcome them when necessary. At the congress a whole pavilion was dedicated only to applications, Skype had a stand there, a free coffee bar, tables with phones and even mini-computers/over-sized phone screens from where you could call anywhere in the world for free. Google Android had a whole stand for itself in the hall where I worked every day. It looked like a fun park, all green, with a big slide and huge Android toy like replicas everywhere. There were green fruity candies in all congress locations, at the stand they were giving away pins and fruity smoothies named after Android features, the litchi-honey one was called Honeycomb for instance. There were also Gingerbread and Donut flavours. They were also giving away mini-Androids designed by Andrew Bell, on the box one could read that it was an art object and not a toy, recommended for 15+. All together most places looked very colourful and had great visual impact, with lots of big screen and different types of projections. It was hard to believe it was all about this small personal device we all use.

On the last day I went out for a beer with a friend and a guy at a bar had a funny fluffy toy bird, looking like a plush ball. I asked him if it's a grown-up toy and he was amazed that I didn't know what the Angry Birds are, and even more so when I told him I use my phone only for talking. It reminded me of my Canadian boss at the Hilton in Romania who couldn't believe that I had no idea what Macy's was or what an amazing Christmas parade they had. Our cultural references seem to move farther and farther away from the word culture, or the meaning me personally I give to it.

Giving all this a common sense I would say we are becoming more and more addicted to toys and technology gadgets, absorbed by our phones and computers, finding harder to get closer to people in more direct and simple ways. All these games and applications make us less observant, lazier, dependent on accessories that are not really a necessity, but that we consider so and feel lost and nervous without. We are also becoming more selfish, less responsible and responsive, behaving like big kids, for whom entertainment is their main interest. Obviously we become easier to manipulate too. And to me here is the clue, to transform us in a crowd willing to work more so we can consume and play more, without any deeper thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. so, there are two of us, regarding the use of the telephone.
    Your Canadian boss somehow expected the whole world to be built on the same (popular) culture brands and events. I came to think that it is essential to understand that things are simply different in different places and the main point is to be CURIOUS to understand what the locals know and think and to be ready to explain, in your turn, how things are where you come from.
    Intercultural communication is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting things in the world.


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