Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Slobbery Signals!

Ivan Pavlov would be pleased and feel vindicated, or maybe dismayed, with today's world. The man known for his salivating dog experiments that demonstrated a conditioned reflex could have easily predicted the current era of cell phone autonomic responses.

Image of Pavlov from
If you've ever heard the idiom "Pavlov's Dog" referring to someone automatically giving a reflexive response to stimuli without thinking about it, then you get where I'm coming from. Pavlov's dog was conditioned to start slobbering (salivating is the clinical term) when he heard a bell, chime, whistle or other stimulus that the animal had learned to associate with dinner.

Over and over again I've noticed how people seem to be unable to stop themselves from checking their phone whenever they hear a familiar beep, ring, song, or sound effect. We even customize them to different contacts. One person I know has a submarine alarm klaxon for his wife's ringtone. Make of it what you will. She knows about it and is ok with it!

Often in class a chime or buzz will indicate a new text message and the student, regardless of what is happening in the classroom, is driven with a lemming-like force to at least look at their phone. It's as if they can't help themselves. It is such a conditioned part of their psyche that it never occurs to them that this is rude or inappropriate.

A Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, accessed at TLE Travels.
The concept is nothing new. Pavlov figured it out over a hundred years ago, without a computer, a smart phone, or Wikipedia or Google. Even as a teenager working in a fast food joint 30 years ago I quickly learned to distinguish between the different alarm sounds that let you know when to flip the burgers, drop the fries, and pull the fish fillets; more than half a dozen different sounds all going off at once. 

We're good at it. The brain can process up to four times as much info as the ears can take in. And we learn to automatically respond to a signal without even thinking about what we are doing. Now we have these wonderful smart phones to bring this conditioning into every part of our life, rudely or not. Consciously or not. Willingly or not!

Apparently I'm not the only one feeling this way. Another blogger makes a similar post. She also points out that we are so conditioned to interact and respond to our smart devices, that we fail to respond personally to people. She is feeling so connectd with her phone that she is disconnect personally. If you've ever watched the Disney-Pixar movie, WALL E, you can see where this conditioning (and lack of physical conditioning) could take us!