DAILY INSIGHT: Digital Zombie Series: The Digital Yawn

By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor

Coming off my SXSWedu presentation on “Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse” and subsequent MindShift article on how our brains are “changing” with societal changes, I thought I’d start a 5-part series of observations and tools to cope with this new digitally instant world. Today’s post focuses on a trend I’ve been noticing as our phones become more and more smart.

“The Digital Yawn”
You ever have that moment where you experience something and are somewhat annoyed by it? Better yet, have you ever actually participated in something and ended up annoyed at yourself?

I’m one of those people who feels naked without their phone. I used to think I was in the minority, but after my SXSW presentation, I think I’m now just part of the “in” crowd. I experimented going digitally naked once and felt the experience strangely freeing and refreshing. It’s kind of like carrying a heavy backpack full of essential things and then putting it down for a moment. ou know you need to pick it back up again but enjoy the break on your back muscles.

The other day, I was amongst a group of colleagues discussing work life and talking some mild business when it happened again.

That moment.

I was witnessing something I sensed was happening more and more in social circles (even in non-social ones). Here’s how it goes:

Everyone is standing or sitting around, having conversation when someone decides it’s time to check his phone. Maybe it vibrated. Maybe it flashed or blinked up some sort of notification, but he checked it. Then, almost without fail, someone else in the group decides to do the same thing. Only, they likely weren’t notified or “pinged” for any reason. They were merely mimicking the action of a group member doing the same thing. Or maybe they took his actions as an opportunity to break from normal social maladies to check their own device.

Only it doesn’t stop there. A third person takes this opportunity to check their device. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. Eventually everyone is checking their phones. This experience is what I’m calling the “Digital Yawn”.

Witness a Digital Yawn in captured in action

Originally, I wanted to call it something more viral like YouTuberculosis or iFluenza or maybe Cell Phonic Plague. But since it usually isn’t a permanent or long lasting event, I had to search for something simpler but just as contagious like a yawn.

After some back and forth on ideas with colleague and blogger, Gina Dodd, I settled on the idea of a “Digital Yawn.” It turns out this isn’t a completely unique idea as research would turn up this Huffington Post article mentioning the yawn parallel to cell phone usage back in 2012. I think something more ubiquitous and device agnostic works better for these situations (especially with the proliferation of tablets in the world).

The second event that usually follows a group digital yawn is a moment of involuntary silence. This is known as “Nocialization”, or the lack of socialization in a social setting. Again, research shows that this term has started to make appearances in Urban Dictionary in mid-2013.

While I think that as a society we are becoming more and more connected, that connection comes with a cost. The cost of giving up face-to-face time with others. The cost of being fully in the moment.

So what does all this mean? Are we all becoming Digital Zombies? Drawn to our phones like those walkers looking for brains? Are more and more of us are ambling about through the world slowly as we check our text messages?

No. I don’t think so. The reality is, as with any innovation or cultural nuance, society is quick to become addicted and latch on. But eventually we level out. Check out this picture Jacob Luevano shared with me on twitter. Apparently there were paper zombies before there were digital ones and we have been nocializing for a while.

No, I think like anything else, this pendulum will swing to center. Becoming aware of these social (or non-social) situations is the first step in balancing out our lives. So the next time you are in a crowd of friends or trapped in an elevator with a bunch of strangers, resist the temptation to grab for that device and check on it.

Instead, lean back, breathe in the air, and smile. You are now a member of a new movement. We are battling the digital walking dead one person at a time. The apocalypse may come one day, but with all of your help, we can at least enjoy each other’s conversation and company as the end comes while our phones vibrate and ping away unsuccessfully trying to gain our attention.

Carl Hooker is director of instructional technology at Eanes ISD in Texas and blogs at Hooked on Innovation, where this is cross posted.