// Posted by Aisling on 11/25/2014 (10:49 PM)
How many times have you sat down for a meal and noticed that half of the people at the table are on their phones? Or when was the last time you were talking to someone and realized that they were… Read more
How many times have you sat down for a meal and noticed that half of the people at the table are on their phones? Or when was the last time you were talking to someone and realized that they were paying more attention to the feed on their phone? At least from my own experiences, I have sat down at that table far too many times, and often feel frustrated when I am trying to talk to someone and they care more about what’s going on with their phone. And I can’t that I am not guilty of doing either myself.
For our Experience #5, we wanted to focus on the theories provided by Turkle and Tufekci. Turkle focuses on the idea that connection replaces communication, while Tufekci believes that social media is strengthening connectivity and communication. It was important for us that the experience be relatively fun, as it was our last one and also had to take place at the James River. Somewhat inspired by a conversation that Nicola and I had earlier in class that day about Australian Instagrams, we thought it would be interesting to compare conversations when we did have our phones versus when we did not. We thought about walking around the area or venturing out to the rocks, but ultimately decided to have a picnic at the river. While donut holes and brownies are certainly fun, food is often a good topic of conversation and connection, so we thought that it would be appropriate to incorporate it into our conversation based class. We called it the Pony Pasture Picnic Potluck Party.
Once we arrived at the river, we spent a few minutes walking through the trails in search of the perfect (and least “nature” smelling) rock for our picnic. We found a rock, and spread a few blankets across it. We then put out the food and sat around the rock.
Our group had thought of ways to incorporate phones into conversation, and I think Emily was trying to do this when she asked me if I had any pictures from my trip to Toronto. Although nobody ended up being interested in the pictures, I thought that it was a good attempt to begin and focus a conversation around a piece of technology.
The idea of a conversation centered around a piece of technology certainly came up during the first 20 minutes, although I didn’t find it to be an extremely significant part of the conversation. I don’t remember what exactly she was showing people, but I do remember Nicola using her phone to show people pictures of what we had been talking about. Tufekci states, “Social media is enhancing human connectivity as people can converse in ways that were once not possible.” (Tufekci, The Atlantic) I think that this notion was present here, as the addition of the ability to access images instantly added another dynamic to the conversation in order to help the understanding on both sides. In this way, the phone was useful to the conversation and provided a topic for further talking and comprehension of the subject.
However, more so than the way that phones were important to the conversation, I found that the food people brought played an important roll in what we were talking about. From the donut holes to dining dollars, I think that the presence of the food sparked more conversation than the presence of phones. While the phones allowed us to provide images of what we were talking about at the moment, the food at the picnic gave us several different topics of conversation. For example, the donut holes sparked a conversation about chains and local restaurants, which then led us to talk about different local restaurants and chains that we liked. Rather than simply add on to the end of a conversation or remark, the food sparked the initiation and flow of several conversations. For me, at least, I found the food to be more of a “distraction” or conversation point than the present of cellphones.
Although I had expected people to be on their phones throughout the first twenty minutes, I think that the context of the picnic influenced how and when people used their phones. Personally, I wasn’t significantly tempted to be on my phone, however I did check it from time to time. If I had a message I responded, and I took some pictures of the food and the river. However, I found that because it was still “class time” I felt a little odd and even rude pulling out my phone to text. In this sense, I certainly think that the context of the picnic influenced my phone usage. Had I been at a picnic with six of my closest friends, I think that it would have been different. For example, I think that people would be a lot more focused on getting pictures at the river, or snapchatting our riverside picnic.
Even though I didn’t feel anxious without my phone during the second 20 minutes, there were still a few times when I would reach down beside me looking for it. I would be looking to check the time, or see if my friend had texted me back yet. However, the conversation my friend and I were having wasn’t very important, so I didn’t feel anxious about responded or what her next text might be.
I didn’t notice a huge change in conversation when we put our phones away. Actually, I found that collecting the phones caused the biggest change in conversation, and even seemed to awkwardly halt it for a moment or two. This was interesting to me, as I had expected the second half of the conversation to be much more forced than the first half. However, people did not rely on their phones as much as I had thought they would, so the second half and first half were relatively similar.
Overall, this experience actually helped to restore a bit of my faith in humanity and our generation’s ability to hold decent conversation without constantly checking our devices. Turkle has a compelling argument concerning connectivity vs communication, and as I read her article, I found it increasingly easy to nod my head and agree with what she was saying (NYT). Perhaps this article influenced how I imagined the second half of our picnic to be. I had thought that it would be just like the lunch tables I too often sit down at: silent, apart from a few “mhmms” and tapping fingers. I also know how easy it is to appear to be present in a physical conversation while actually being completely consumed by what is happening on my phone. I was honestly surprised and delighted that this didn’t seem to happen during our experience. While I believe that daily life has elements of technology that both nurture and hurt communication, I found that during our experience the technology did not seem to play a large role in either hindering or fostering our conversations.