Mobile (banking+politics+connecing)=?

You may have noticed a good deal of hullabaloo in the press about the advent of Mobile Banking: the new technology enabling consumers to control their financial assets from their mobile phone (texting to transfer funds, schedule a payment, check balances, et cetera).

As exciting as that is, banking is not the only activity people engage in on-the-go. ABI research reports that 46% of those who use social networks have also accessed a social network through their mobile phone (70% of those had visited MySpace  and 67% had visited Facebook). Interestingly, when asked why they had logged in via their mobile, 50% acknowledged checking for comments and messages, while 45% logged in to make status updates – that is, projecting what they were doing or feeling to their online audience.

Social media users have surely not hit a glass ceiling there. Bluhalo reports that social media are “becoming a key element of presidential campaigns.” In fact, the Democractic candidate, Barack Obama, is leveraging social media to encourage his 1.9 million online supports not just to raise money, but to volunteer their time and talents to further his camapign. Time will tell if Republican candidate, John McCain, should have done the same with his 150,000 online supporters.

But back to the thought of mobile-activity. It seems that a burgeoning segment of Americans are finding it necessary to establish a stable place for them to exist, while remaining free to move about in their daily lives. How much of this is desire, and how much of this is need? How much of this is practical, how much of this is excess? To what degree will this change in the coming years? While this recent development definitely harks to fantastic technological advancements, my concern lays somewhere in the gray of “just because we have it, doesn’t mean we need to use it.” Maybe I can better express my concerns by posing three probing questions:

  1. How many people view their online presences as Voltaire’s garden? A little sanctuary which we must cultivate on our own to be our stable place in an ever shifting, changing world? (“One just needs to cultivate one’s garden…’tis the only way to make life endurable.”)
  2. For how many people are these online presences much like Dorian Gray’s portrait? The outside remains fixed and beautiful, while the insides rot away due to inattention and superficiality. (“It often seems to me that art conceals the artist far more completely than it ever reveals him.”) (Sorry for the double-whammy allusions to high-brow lit.)
  3. For how many people, does this desire to “connect” via their cell phones indicate an addiction, an unhealthy urge to always be online, rather than in your physical reality? I’m reminded of my September 13, 2008 post, “Can You Put Down Your Mouse? Your Cell Phone?”, where I noted that Internet Addiction is on track to be included in the next edition of the DSM as a legitimate disorder. Don’t forget that the symptoms of internet addiction include excessive use and anxiety when the device is inaccessible, among other things.

When it comes down to it, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I worry the millenial generation is becoming more obsessed with themselves than their predecessors, the watershed narcissists of Generation X, because of how accessible and addicting social media has been shown to be. What does this turning inward suggest for our communities? For our relationships? For ourselves?

Or maybe I’m worried for nothing, and just too much a sycophant of Jack Kerouac’s, who urged us to remember “No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.” I can’t help but think that is damn good advice.

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