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Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.
Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.

Snapshots of Smartphones and Clueless People

The Internet's a hazardous, porous medium. Be careful. It's a jungle out there.

Snapshot: At their ritual Friday breakfast, six men are in the throes of a raucous memory challenge brought up in innocent curiosity by Michigan Ed: “Guys, in the movie Forest Gump who played Gump’s mother?”

"Kathy Baker? Shirley MacLaine? Robin Wright? Angelina Jolie?” fly around the table.

Throaty guffaws, snide chortles and “get serious” retorts hang in the air around off-the-wall guesses punctuated by the occasional “ooh, could be” encouragement to make the risk of ridicule worthwhile.

“Wait, wait, wait,” says Paul, “I think her name begins with an H, like Hannah or Harriet or…”

“No,” chimes in George, “Not H, an S…like Sheila. She was in a movie with Burt Reynolds, what was that title? A comedy, he won a Golden Globe I think.”

After several minutes, frustrated and impatient at everyone’s prattling guesswork, Luther whips out his iPhone5 and deftly (he has small fingers) embarks on a Google search for the answer while the guessing free-for-all rages on.

“Smokey and the Bandit,” T. J. bellows,

“Great film!” yells Mike.

“We’re close,” intrudes Hugh, “I can feel it.” He pauses for a second, then his eyes brighten. “Sally Rae! It’s Sally Rae, I’m sure,” he declaims as he pops a fried potato into his mouth.

“Nope,” intones Luther-the-Googlemeister, as he rises from his chair, “Close but no cigar,” he says, short-circuiting the group’s happy melee. Triumphantly he declares, “It was the Flying Nun herself, the notorious ‘you like me you really like me’ Oscar winner Sally Field.”

A tableful of squinting, reproving eyes glare at him. No thank you’s, just glares. Luther’s giddy smile melts into a puzzled scowl as he slowly sinks back into his seat. His plate of biscuits and gravy are the only safe harbor in the room. “You love me,” he whispers to the lukewarm plate of empty calories.

What’s the “it” that Luther doesn’t get? You think the guys would welcome this digitally retrieved piece of cinematic arcana, allowing the conversation and debate to move on. You’d think…

You’d think, but only if you believe the outcome is the most import element of a guessing game. It’s not! It’s the process, stupid! It’s the retrieval of the correct answer, the correct name, from someone’s memory at the table that gets the envy, the kudos, the gold ring. Sally Field’s name spit out by some nameless, faceless online resource unfairly cleans the clock of everyone in the contest. Death by a Virtual Stranger.

No posthumous bragging rights, no feigned modesty over retrieval skills. No paean to raw memory power and vital neural pathways or to a mind that’s a repository of massive amounts of pop cultural trivia at the ready. Only a bloodless, inert database. That “it” is what Luther didn’t get.

If Luther had asked the guys at the table, “Should I look it up?” They would have yelled, “Hell no, why spoil the fun with fact.” It’s a truth without a pedigree.

But he didn’t ask. He presumed. Once again, “the medium is the message.” Faster is not always better if it trivializes the added value of the human component. Really who wants to watch computers playing Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

Sometimes the right question to ask is “Should I be using this technology, this platform, at this time?”

Snapshot: Why does someone email, tweet or text when they are having dinner with a date or with a business client? What’s so important that it can’t wait for a time that is less rude? Why leave people hanging out to wait?

You’re being attended to by a store clerk whose cell rings. Surprise, they put you on hold rather than the caller. Doesn’t being there in the flesh count for something? Moreover, I see people sitting at tables across from each other, each cell-talking, texting, tweeting, emailing or net surfing ignoring their friend or spouse, Doesn’t being there in the flesh give you some priority, some privileges?

Is this now acceptable social behavior, the new social etiquette in a wireless world? Is incoming always more important than already here?



: Stupids with smartphones. Two years ago when I was in Rome I saw young Romans riding Vespas in the horrific traffic, steering with one hand and speed dialing with the other. Worse, one death-wisher steered with one hand, held his phone on his thigh while he texted.



“Should I be doing this?” obviously never crosses their minds.

Snapshot : Of course, sometimes stupid is good. At least for justice’s sake. Media posturing high school football player-rapists and witnesses from Steubenville, Ohio self-incriminated on videotape, in tweets and on Facebook pages. They exhibited their gang rape and the desecration of the body of a comatose 16 year-old girl. Media pages and video of the series of rapes and reveling spread virally across the internet and then was picked up and amplified by the shadowy activist media watchdog group Anonymous, a loose network of cyber Robin Hoods who sport Vendetta masks.

No one observing or participating in this brutal, “wilding” thought to ask the question, “Why am I doing this? Why am I taping this? in front of all these people who, with their smartphones may be catching every ruthless moment and maybe will text about it?”

Examples of social media use and misuse run the gamut from amusingly insightful to clueless or worse, stupifyingly horrific misuse of social media technology in the service of insensate, mad dog lust.

With smartphones everyone is a potential paparazzo.

The Internet is a hazardous, porous medium. As the duty officer on the TV series Hill Street Blues used to say to his officers before they left the precinct each morning for the streets of New York, “Let’s be careful out there, it’s a jungle.”

So is cyberspace.

About the Author
Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., was Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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