Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In defense of screen-gazing

A story just started making waves about a gunman who couldn't get the attention of commuters on a train because they were engrossed in their smart phones and tablets:

The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities. 
The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn't notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.

The reactions to this story are all about how awful it is that people are too engrossed in their electronic devices. The assumption here is that people only do fanciful things with them, like exchanging inane messages or make shallow social media posts.

That's because onlookers are looking at the back of the device and have no idea what is on the other side. If someone had viewed me on the airplane to Las Vegas this summer they would have seen me using my tablet for hours. Some of that time was playing video games, but most of it was reading an economics book.

Device users can also be going through work emails or coordinating family matters with their spouse. Lots of people aren't doing anything productive, but the important thing is outside observers don't know who is doing what and the assumption is always pessimistic.

How can a mobile device user signal that they are doing something important? Are commuters who want to read expected to downgrade and bring paperbacks with them? That solution has problems of its own. Are we supposed to go back to the dark ages where people who didn't bring fresh reading materials with them on public transportation are supposed to waste their time sitting quietly in boredom?

Personally, I think the best way to deal with judgmental people who don't approve of my public use of technology is to ignore them and go back to reading my e-book.

No comments:

Post a Comment