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From connection to disconnection

The fundamentals of social interpersonal interactions are under assault. Mobile devices are destroying relationships, and friends and families are going to turn to total strangers, if something is not done about it soon.

I happen to be one of those who were promoting the many advantages of the mobile phones especially with regards to interpersonal relationships, but I doubt I can comfortably say the same today-with what I see. There was a time when people rushed home in order to spend quality time with their families. That is all but gone. It is, however, not as if people still don’t rush home; some still do, but what happens at home is a far cry from spending quality time or bonding with their families. Families no longer gather to watch a TV program. Everyone is watching something but hardly the same thing. With the growing internet data connectivity, everyone has access to more than enough text, audio and visual materials to keep him or her busy and fully distracted from folks right there in the same room with them. In the few homes where they still eat together, people are most of the time engaged on their mobile phones and other devices-and hardly participate in any meaningful conversation, which such occasions ordinarily warrant and should foster.

I was recently at a dinner, which I almost declined because I didn’t know most of the guests. With the benefit of hindsight I should have listened to my instincts and backed out because I was not only lonely most of the time, but the other lonely guests like me were occupied with their mobile phones. Some of them occasionally “disengaged” from their phones and sympathetically partook in the dinner and swiftly returned to their companions, their phones. I almost asked the celebrant to order guests to drop their phones, but I restrained myself lest I spoilt his evening by drawing his attention to something he’s not and shouldn’t be aware of. I must have made five posts on Facebook that evening, and even had time for a FaceTime call with my children!

So, what has happened now is that the mobile phone first brought people together with a rake and then started scattering them with a shovel! I can’t forget those early days of mobile phone, when I would call my mother and siblings on conference and we will talk and talk and talk! You know, people you never used to hear from in a whole year were now just a phone call away! Families, friends, schoolmates, classmates, age mates, roommates, even inmates became connected or reconnected through mobile phones. With Skype, back then, video calls added spice to the whole experience. Then, social media! Blackberry Messenger (BBM), WhatsApp, Facebook, Imo, Instagram and so on and so forth all made it possible to share texts, photos, audios and videos.

For me, one of the early signs of the dangers of mobile technology and the limitless functionalities was when I would return from trips and there wouldn’t be anything left of the experience to tell my wife. Of course, I kept her updated via phone calls, text messages, chats, photos and videos throughout the trip. So, there was unusually nothing more to say! I doubt that I’m the only itinerant professional in this situation because truly there would be nothing left to share after you have given her real time and sometimes live feeds of whatever you’ve gone for. The natural, do I say normal, practice of returning from a trip and spending hours or even days telling stories have been literally killed by the two-way exchange that happens when a member of the family is away from home.

Then, I remember what happened several years ago, before the advent of mobile phones in Nigeria. I returned from a trip to Kaduna to meet one of my brothers in my neighbor’s apartment. He had set out from Mbaise to Lagos to visit me unaware that I was out of town. Without mobile phones, and with land line telephones then only for the high and mighty, the only way he could have known was to write me a letter notifying me well ahead of time of his intention to visit-and I replying to confirm a date! Alas, he did not!

Fast forward to 2005, the GSM Mobile revolution was already two years or more old in Nigeria and one of my friends traveled all the way from Okota in the northern part of Lagos, Nigeria, to Ikeja ostensibly to visit me but met my gates locked. He then calls and roused me from my jetlagged sleep in faraway New Jersey, United States. I laughed at him, and counselled him to learn to call before he sets outs on such visits. He did counter that he wanted to surprise me, but then he ended up surprising himself instead. And there you have it. That element of surprise or spontaneity has all but disappeared from our relationships. You cannot just wake up and storm a friend’s house without first checking to even know whether he or she is available.

So we are really losing human touch. We are going back to where we came from, unwittingly. People no longer call each other. It’s easier (and cheaper) to chat with friends and family, isn’t it? Rather than call a friend on his birthday to wish him well, you can simply post a tribute to him on Facebook and tag him. I gather some people even prefer that to merely being called-because the posts will attract more attention in comments and likes. Ludicrous! Personally, I do the tributes, but I also make the calls.

There is a new term known as Pphubbing, short for Partner Phone Snubbing, “the extent to which people use or are distracted by their cellphones while in the company of their relationship partners.” Using two separate experiments, Professor James A. Roberts, Ph.D of Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business., Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, and Meredith David, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, recently published their study in which they surveyed 453 adults across the United States.

In their report published in Essence Magazine, the researchers say: “What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner pphubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction,” Roberts explained. “These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression.”

According to the report, a whopping 36.6 percent of those surveyed reported feeling depressed at least some of the time after being pphubbed by someone they’re in a relationship with, and overall, only 32 percent of respondents who had been pphubbed at some point by their partner stated that they were very satisfied with their relationship, the study shows.

“But how harmless can just glancing at your phone during a date really be? Apparently, very! Adults in Robert’s first group of 146 adults helped to determine a “Partner Pphubbing Scale”. Those surveyed felt snubbing included situations like when “my partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together” and “my partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me,” among others.

“In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal,” David added. “However, our findings suggest that the more often a couple’s time spent together is interrupted by one individual attending to his/her cellphone, the less likely it is that the other individual is satisfied in the overall relationship.

Do you know you can play scrabble or any other game with your computer or mobile devices? You can play with friends (even those in other parts of the world) without necessarily being with them physically? That is mobile technology’s inhumanity to man!

So, in concluding they have an advice for lovers: “if you truly want to keep the spice in your relationship, you should start by turning off your smartphones!”  It is not just lovers, I have to add. Friendships and extended family relationship have prematurely reached doomsday zone just because folks are not willing to let go. As my friend who visited from Okota complained above, the spontaneity of friendship and family is all but gone. No thanks to mobile technology!

Oparah, a communications practitioner, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

From connection to disconnection From connection to disconnection Reviewed by Emeka Oparah on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 Rating: 5

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