A friend of mine shared an article on social media earlier today highlighting the growing phenomenon of death by cellphone. It seems that globally, talking on cellphones while driving is being replaced as the hobby of choice by the million-times-more-crazy-deadly texting and messaging on cellphones while driving.
Global society is trending towards increasingly impersonal modes of communication. FaceTime, Skype and the like may have increased the access for face to face communication but it pales into insignificance when you weigh it up against the volume of communications conducted solely via a keyboard. Why call when you can send an email? Why email when you can send a WhatsApp? Why stand behind a reasoned and logical argument when you can hide in the shadows and cause a shitstorm on Twitter?
I heard the CEO of Telkom (the main fixed line supplier here in South Africa) in an interview the other night referring to fixed line and voice-calling as their legacy businesses. That statement actually made me gasp, but he’s got a point. People just aren’t talking as much, and there is a twenty-four-hours-in-a-day ceiling on voice calls. With data the sky is very much the limit.
Many of my closest friendships and relationships are based almost entirely around impersonal modes of communication. Not even a decade ago this would have been inconceivable. I consider my fellow editors on Literally Stories as good friends, yet I have met none of them and have no idea what any of their voices sound like. The person who shared this article with me is one of my closest friends yet we have met face to face perhaps twice in the last five years and seldom, if at all, speak on the phone.
Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to be able to hang out and talk face to face with the aforementioned people but geography and circumstance dictate otherwise and so we all use the tools at our disposal.
Let’s get back to the article I started talking about at the start. A large part of the piece was devoted to unpacking why we are becoming addicted to our cellphones. It seems when we receive a message or a mail our body triggers a dopamine response. I don’t claim to know the full chemistry here but I do know that dopamine plays a big role in the reward centers of the brain. If you want to get a rat to push a lever make sure there’s dopamine in the mix. When I thought about it, this rising phenomenon of sending and checking for messages when driving started to make more sense. Sure, you could wait until the end of your journey, check your phone, have six messages and get a dopamine hit. Or you could check your phone six times and get six hits in the same space of time. And if you factor in the adrenaline surge as you narrowly miss the bus in front of you, so much the better.
I don’t send messages while I’m driving…but I’ve definitely sent some when I’m waiting at the lights or stuck in a traffic jam. Which is also pretty dumb when you think about it. Best case is that you just continue to fuel your addiction, middle ground is that you annoy the shit out of the guy behind you when the lights change and worst case is that someone smashes your window, grabs your phone and knifes you because you weren’t paying attention.
What the article really brought home to me is just how much these impersonal modes of communication mean to me. Writing messages, interacting on forums, spending time on Facebook and Twitter…it’s a constant draw card. Kids being annoying at bath time? I’ll just read a quick article and check my mail. Waiting in the queue at the supermarket? I’ll just send a message to three people, post it on Facebook and hashtag my displeasure on Twitter. That little burst of pleasure when an email arrives or a message pops up…pure addictive bliss.
And the punchline to all this? Once my scribbling is over I’m going to fire this off to a website hoping against hope that people I’ve never met or people I’ve never spoken to or people I didn’t know existed join forces with those people I know exist but I never get to speak to or spend time with to click a button on a webpage and decide they like what I’ve written.
Validation through the kindness of strangers. The new rock and roll.