Monday, October 26, 2009

Naturalistic Inquiry: Tech in your step

The Surreal Reality of Human Interaction

When I was younger, before everyone had cell phones, my dad had a Motorola two way radio in his truck that could call telephones. The conversation only worked one way at a time but it worked. Then, in the 1990s cell phones began to become widespread. These days nearly everyone has a phone with them at all times. People are more easily connected now but this has brought on a new set of problems. Nearly everywhere you go you can see people walking around with a mobile device in their hands either talking to someone or texting or playing games. This brought a question to my mind. Actually, a two part question; What percentage of people are disconnected from where they are because they are using a mobile device and are males or females more likely to do so?

This sounds like a perfect opportunity to use some naturalistic inquiry. In order to tackle this topic I decided to act as an observer-participant at the mall on a Sunday afternoon. At that time the mall is bustling with activity and there are plenty of people to observe.

I went to the most active place in the mall, the center court where I sat and observed. I watched people and made a mark on my pad for every male and female who were using their cell phones while walking around the mall. I also made a mark for every five people that I saw. What I found in my three hours of observation was that 2,205 people walked through the center court of the mall. Of those people a total of 209 were walking with their friends while either playing games, talking on the phone or texting. A couple of different schools of thought would lend to two different preconceptions of whether males or females would be more likely to be disconnected from where they are because of their use of modern technology. One way of thinking, based on the assumption that women enjoy talking on the phone, would make the observer believe that more women would be guilty of using their phones while out in public. Another, based on the fact that men are obsessed with technology and portable devices, would make the observer think that he would see more men texting and talking on the phone. What I actually found was that it was nearly split down the middle. There were 107 men and 102 women. Based on this data, I found that approximately 10 percent of people are not actually where it would seem that they are.

Some interesting observations were that many of the women were mothers who were pushing strollers. I saw several groups of people where more than one person was using a device while walking around with friends. One particularly interesting grouping was three men, all of whom were texting and talking on the phone. Who says you can’t be in two places at once? I do. One gentleman was so engrossed in what he was doing that he actually walked into my foot. He didn’t even take the few seconds that were required to say excuse me.

This is interesting information that anyone who is fascinated with technology and how it is changing our lives would find intriguing. In the early 70s Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, believed that a day would come when there would be a computer on every office desk and in every home. He was right. We’re nearly there now. In fact, there is a computer in nearly every pocket or purse. So, where are we going? Well, the technologies are changing and we are changing right along with them. Those 209 men and women at the mall all had at least one thing in common: they were all only half where they were. That is to say, because of the technology in their hands each person’s attention was split between the group of people that they were with and the group of people with whom they were talking remotely. As technology continues to change we will evolve with it and we’ll get better at using it while staying connected with where we are.


  1. Great post and observations. Isn't it amazing where tech has lead us and the changes to human behavior.

  2. Speaking of handphones did you see the findings about tumors that they featured on F&FW? Yet another great post.

  3. No, I didn't catch that. I'll see if I can find it on the website.