“Plug In and Shut Off” Uses of Media Technologies

As I started to read and take notes for this essay I could not help but to glance every minuet or so at my cell phone sitting under the computer desktop at the tech. Then I realized what I was reading and responding to, and put my phone into my jacket pocket where I hope it stays for at least the next 30 minuets.  Mission was successful.

In this day in age we are witnessing, shipping, and apart of the relationship between mobile technologies and social interaction. You can’t walk through a restaurant, bar, classroom, park, or coffee shop without seeing people on their phones. We spend our days “tethered” to the devices that connect us to other people but disconnect us from those who are right in front of us. Take a minute to think about when the last time was that you left your phone at home, or even easier when’s the last time you turned your phone off. No one turns his or her phones off. If you turn your phone off and then try to charge it, say like over night, it will turn back on. We find ourselves as Sherry Turkle says “Always On”. Mobile technologies take away from social interaction as well as add and expand it. We see this through smart phones, apps, social media, and other electronic devices.

Turkle explains it best in her article “Always on/Always on you”; saying “we are tethered to our ‘always on/always on you’ communication devices and the people and things we reach through them…Each person is more likely to be having and encounter with someone miles away than the person in the next chair” (122/23). In just that quote alone we can see two sides of social interaction. These mobile devices are taking away from immediate interaction with the person you’re sitting with but then connect you to someone who is far away, which in a way is still being social.  For some communicating through mobile devices is easier than socializing in real life, some whom associate with being shy or awkward in in person communication can often show their true selves and come out through these devices. If you’re able to express yourself better through text and a mobile device then it may be what they prefer and they are more likely to interact more through those devices then they ever would without them.

We are now though seeing more of an issue with individuals replacing in person interaction with mobile devices. Terkle writes, “face to face conversations are routinely interrupted by cell phone calls and email reading. Fifteen years go, if a colleague read mail in your presence, it was considered rude. These days, turning away from a person in front of you to answer a cell phone has become the norm” (130). This is one of the larger problems of our generation and some are becoming more aware of it. At a lunch date with my friends I will tell everyone to put their phones away, for the sole purpose of my want for them to be present here in person then talking to someone else and not paying attention. On August 22nd, 2013 a women names Charlene deGuzman uploaded a video to YouTube called I Forgot My Phone. The video shows the real life situations we face everyday now, people being on a mobile device instead of socializing in real time. The Fine Brothers, a group on YouTube, took this video and showed it to Teenagers. Many agreed that this is what their life is like. Some were mad saying “they get so pissed off” at those who cannot go a whole conversation without looking at their mobile device. While others admitted, “that’s me, I do that all the time”.

The video brought this issue to our attention and it was interesting to watch these teenagers responses to the exact topic we are talking about, what is the relationship between mobile devices and social interaction.

Depending on how you use certain mobile technologies with also effect the social interactions you have.  James E. Katz’s “Mobile Music as Environmental Control and Prosocial Entertainment” shows both sides of this relationship, how it closes people off as well as brings them together. In this study they interviewed different focus groups of college students. Most had some type of MP3 player or iPod that they used regularly. If you sit outside any college campus and observe the time in between classes when people are leaving class and walking to class you will see a majority of the students wearing headphones. Many students do this just as entertainment, walking to class can be boring, why not put a little kick in your step and listen to your pump up jams on the way to your really boring lecture class. Some others do it for the sake of not being talked to, a lot of times when walking while wearing headphones individuals feel like they are more likely to not be disturbed, which is the truth. You are less likely to ask someone who is wearing headphones a question then you are someone who you know can hear you. When this was brought up to the students many agreed, one woman said, “it (music) allows me to become more antisocial. It allows me to tune out reality and I realize that more and more” (373). Another agreeing with the same topic said that she “would frequently use her iPod technology in public areas thus allowing her to escape the area” (373). We spend a lot of time “escaping”. Taking any source of transportation, walking, or any down time we often “plug in” and “shut off”. This is a perfect example of mobile technologies effecting our social interaction with others. We plug in our headphones so we don’t have to feel like we should make small talk with those waiting in line with us. Or have to listen to the man on the subway begging for money, we can ignore and escape our reality until we unplug and come back.

Though music through mobile devices has the power to also bring us together. Music is so often something you share, in the same focus group one individual talked about how her boyfriend’s fraternity all connected their iTunes so they could share each other’s music. Others said how they shared headphones with their friends or significant others so they could listen together. This sharing of music can sometimes makes a bit of a community. Towards the end of the reading Katz talks of “silent raves” when a group of people come together and does certain activities all together through instructions they are hearing in the headphones they are wearing. We got to watch some examples like the MP3 Experiment from Improve Everywhere. But some of my favorite examples come from Music Festivals. At these events and gathers made to bring people together many have “Silent Disco’s” we’ve seen this at Electric Forest, Bonnaroo, and Firefly.  A silent disco is where festival attendees can go to a stage where they are given a pair of wireless headphones. Through the headphones they hear what the DJ is playing. The only music you hear is through the headphones so to any onlookers it seems like a large group of people just dancing around to silence. It is actually quite funny to watch when you don’t hear the music everyone is dancing to.

In these cases mobile technologies are bringing people together and making communities. It creates social interactions by dancing, sharing music, or sharing headphones.

No matter what there will always be a relationship between mobile technologies and social interaction. We use these technologies to interact as well as to stop others from interacting with us. These technologies can often get in the way of our interactions without us really noticing.  As mobile technology grows so will our interaction with it, it’s almost inevitable. I just hope that people stay aware of the way it can negatively effect our social interactions and try to keep it positive.


Work Cited


Turkle, Sherry. (2008). “Always-On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self.” In Katz, J. E. (Ed.). Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. P. 121-137.

Katz, James E., Lever, Katie M., and Chen, Yi-Fan. (2008). “Mobile Music as Environmental Control and Prosocial Entertainment.” In Katz, J. E. (Ed.). Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. P. 367-376

Fine, Benny and Rafi. [TheFineBros]. (2013, October 27). Teens React To SmartPhones [http://youtu.be/RsO9MIaIazM] Retrieved from http://youtu.be/RsO9MIaIazM.

Arino, L. (2013, June 29). Electronic Forest 2013: Silent Disco concept adds to popular Sherwood Forest experience. MLive. Retrieved from: http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/muskegon/index.ssf/2013/06/electric_forest_2013_silent_di.html




One thought on ““Plug In and Shut Off” Uses of Media Technologies”

  1. Interesting points on the Turkle article. I think it’s interesting that she brings up in the tethered self that todays generation has no more need than the last to feel empathy or deal with being alone due to our connection to our devices and the need for others to authenticate our thoughts, but I don’t feel she’s completely right on this. We’ve seen how social media can effect change amongst developing countries particularly during upheaval. This has given us the power to understand what is happening around the world and act on what we see. This week marks the 20th anniversary of Rwanda, and I believe if we had the technology back then that we have now, Rwanda would not have been able to be ignored in the states to the degree it was. We now have the ability to be even more empathetic to others by how much information we receive from these devices and our connections to them should not be viewed as inherently bad. I do also agree that people are able to express themselves easier through text and social media in ways that they otherwise may not have been able to before. Nice work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s