Sociologist, activist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Suffering from obsessive mobile disorder?

My comments in last part of article....


The Sunday Times Sunday, 19th July 2009

Suffering from obsessive mobile disorder?
Veronica Stivala

Do you find yourself sneaking a glance at your mobile phone every five minutes or less for incoming text messages or e-mails? Do you feel the need to lay your phone next to your plate while you're eating, at home or even out with friends, so you can check for Facebook and Twitter updates?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you could be suffering from OMD - obsessive mobile disorder and the dreaded disease CPA - continuous partial attention.

Fear not, you're not alone. Over the past few months, hundreds of iPhones and Blackberrys have been sold in Malta, a sign that many are succumbing to the addiction.

The two leading mobile operators, Vodafone and Go, both say that sales of these phones have been strong in recent months.

Last year, the Maltese sent over 500 million text messages, and spent around 250 million minutes on the phone, figures released by the Malta Communications Authority show. There are around 375,000 mobile subscribers, equivalent to 90 per cent of the population; obviously, some of us have more than one phone.

Many are neurotically checking their phones for communication updates, while CPA means you do not want to miss anything - you are always on, anywhere, anytime, which can be rather stressful.

Go's senior communications manager Franco Aloisio said: "Mobile usage, especially texting and checking e-mails on a device such as a Blackberry, can become addictive as everything happens in real time with no time and space boundaries."

Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown that if people who are engaged on a challenging task are interrupted by a call or an e-mail, they can take up to 15 minutes to refocus on their original purpose.

With this in mind, it is scary to think that so many of us are using our phones while driving: 1,513 tickets were issued between January and April to people using their phones while driving, according to the Guard and Warden Service House, the main local warden agency.

The mobile phone has infiltrated every nook and cranny of everyday life: lawyers are often seen checking their phones during hearings and one magistrate even answered his phone. Texting is not uncommon during Sunday Mass either.

Last year, at least one government minister was informed via text message that he would not form part of Cabinet.

Tenor Joseph Calleja, who is often on the move for performances in different cities and countries, admitted that his "Blackberry is indispensable as a back-up to the computer" and how "it's a really neat thing", especially the built-in GPS when he drives from one place to another.

Art director Nicole Cuschieri thinks many people's strong bond with their phone leads to downright rude behaviour: "I resent having to listen to personal and graphic details of a person's life while queuing at the grocer's.

"Another annoying habit people have is to stop in mid-conversation to read a text message."

Sociologist Michael Briguglio said our attachment to technology has reached the point where it could metaphorically be seen to be an extension of our body, without which one may be excluded from certain social skills/networks.

"On one hand, such IT devices present us with endless possibilities of communication that go beyond geographical borders. In a way, this can be seen as an example of everyday democracy whereby people are not restrained in their communication.

"On the other hand, such devices are helping create a surveillance society," Mr Briguglio said.

Despite our apparent dependability on technology, as well as its myriad positive aspects, Mr Briguglio noted that beyond the hyper-reality of IT there were real-life experiences, such as one's job, ecological realities and health.

"Communication may be a tool of liberation or repression, but we cannot eat mobile phones," he said.

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