Rise of the zombies?

By Razib Khan | October 26, 2008 9:24 pm

shuffle-06-1.jpgWilliam Saletan has an article out on the tendency for many Americans today to always be “hooked in” to technology through mobile devices (cell phones, iPods, etc.). I recall a woman loudly talking about her boyfriend leaving her, and the consequent emotional devastation, in front of me in the supermarket checkout line once. Only after 5 minutes did I notice the very subtle ear piece she was wearing (this was not the express line, so yes, 5 minutes). This was 3-4 years ago. Today my first hypothesis would likely be that she had an ear piece, not that she was schizophrenic, which is what I was wondering then. I always carry my cell phone on my person and have my iPod shuffle ear buds handy when I’m out & about doing errands and what not. I’m not speaking here as an outsider to this phenomenon. I do think that there are downsides, and Saletan highlights some of the more obvious ones (usually having to do with transportation). But I also think that we don’t have a good grasp of the impact on overall productivity of this sort of thing. After all, if you’re in the supermarket checkout line browsing the web via your iPhone, isn’t that a more productive use of time than just standing around, which after all doesn’t exactly require much conscious explicit cognitive functions? How often are you going to be in an “emergency” situation in a supermarket checkout line where you need to be able to hear the clerk talk to you before it’s your turn to be rung up?
Note: Someone should really ask about what it means that many obese are starting to ride around in scooters in lieu of walking. I see this more and more, and I don’t live in Mississippi.

  • http://friendfeed.com/u0421793 Ian Tindale

    I wonder why this article gives the impression that it’s only that particular foreign country in which the article was written that follows the characteristic patterns indicated – as if the world at large doesn’t, and it’s only them that does.
    I suspect exactly the same profile of altered behavioural attitudes and activity episodes is in place here in the UK – it certainly seems so where I live and work in London. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it also the case in France, Russia, Malta, Italy, Australia, Japan, in fact, a large portion of these places in the world. There’s nothing special about that one single odd country that the piece was written from the perspective of, that would make one think in all honesty that the phenomena could only possibly be exhibited there in that specific foreign country alone.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    yes, and if i wasn’t written explicitly from an american perspective, but used a generalized framework, someone would of course object “why exactly does an american think that everything in the rest of the world is like the united states?” point of common courtesy: i’m going to ask readers to actually address posts/links in the first 5 comments instead engaging in self-indulgent meta-criticism. otherwise, i’ll just delete the comment from the mod queue.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    I would think that the major reason you see more obese people using scooters is that scooters have become more affordable. What else do you think it might mean?

  • Mike

    Odd, they must have changed the article since Ian Tindale read it, as I didn’t get that impression at all. That Slate’s national correspondent chose to use US examples of a trend isn’t exactly surprising.
    Regarding the actual story – the trend is pretty much the same in the UK, although the UK government did ban using a mobile phone while driving five years ago (which hasn’t stopped people doing it, any more than they obey speed limits). But there are plenty of examples of UK satnav stupidity – people driving to a small village in Yorkshire when they’re intending to go to a Chelsea match because they’ve put “Stamford Bridge” in as the destination, or the taxi driver who tried driving up a river (not across, up) because the satnav told him to. Lorries getting stuck happens enough that there has even been a sign designed to warn them. In short, it’s people blindly obeying the instructions on the screen so they don’t have to think about it.

  • Ian

    It used to be that we saw people apparently talking to themselves in the street, we’d give them a wide berth. Now it’s the norm!

  • http://madscientistjunior.blogspot.com Toaster Sunshine

    RE: Obese People Riding Scooters
    It’s evolution!
    We, as mankind, have developed technological means to render the physical act of walking obsolete and/or unnecessary. We began this process long ago with domesticating horses and have continued apace with trains, cars, jet packs(!), and finally Segways. The next act of evolution will be to replace our fleshy manipulator appendages (arms/hands) with mechanical means so that we can realize our Manifest Inevitability as Borg, but less bad-ass and more like lard-ass larvae riding around the world by proxy inside of a technological cocoon.
    Didn’t you see Wall-E? It explained the consequences of the scooters, and constant social technology/entertainment very well.

  • bioIgnoramus

    I’ve seen a cyclist on a main road cycling “no hands” and also “no eyes”, in the sense that he was looking down, absorbed with texting.

  • http://www.alanlittle.org/weblog/ Alan Little

    As an expat Brit living in Germany, I recently discovered the benefits of consulting a good online dictionary in the aisles of the DIY store on my cellphone for terms like “primer”.
    My German is fluent for everday and professional life, but not in every area of specialised vocabulary. And I prefer looking a little bit dorky standing around surfing on my phone, to sounding more dorky trying to explain to the guy in the store that “I need that kind of paint that goes under the other paint, I know exactly what I mean but I don’t know what it’s called”.
    I know there have been standalone portable electronic dictionaries for years, but they were expensive and the dictionaries in them weren’t anywhere near as good as the best online dictionaries are now (http://dict.leo.org, for English-German). Paper dictionaries small enough to be easily portable were never much good either.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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