Written by John Butler
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Sunday, 1 January 2006

image for Pretending To Use Mobile Phones Now Number 1 Way Young People Deal With Socially Awkward Situations
A young student handles a socially awkward situation by pretending to send a text message

Whatever happened to inane weather-related remarks? A new survey has shown that pretending to use Mobile phones has, in recent years, become the most common way young people in the developed world cope with socially awkward situations such as uncomfortable silences.

Apparently, feigning use of a mobile phone can be used to alleviate tension in a variety of situations such as, "not knowing what to say to a guy you barely know but happens to be sitting next to you during lunch at work", or "discouraging an acquaintance you don't like from sitting next to you on a bus".

The survey was carried out on roughly 40,000 people aged between 14 and 35 across Europe. It asked its participants questions ranging from "what methods they use with their mobiles in order to lessen the awkwardness of any given social situation" to "on average, how often would you pretend to use a mobile phone to reduce social awkwardness in a day".

Professor of Anthropology at Edinburgh University and the study's co-ordinator, Sid Foley, told of how "many young people, if faced with an uncomfortable silence for example, will pretend to send or receive a text message and then proceed to stare blankly at their phone while their fingers mime the act of pushing buttons".

Foley explained that "in this way, the young person or persons are temporarily relinquished from their intrinsic social duty to make polite conversation. In other words pretending to text buys them time to think of something worthwhile to say.

He went on, "The system is foolproof- if one can't think of anything worthwhile to say, it's so easy just to continue pretending to text. An actual text might take up to 3 minutes to write, so theoretically a person could pretend to use their mobile for this lenght of time without arousing suspicion in the person with whom they are trying to avoid conversation".

Aside from pseudo-texting, some of those surveyed admitted they would even go so far as to pretend they have received an actual call on their mobile in order to reduce social tension.

Foley revealed, "One of the guys on our survey recalled an experience where he was in his house being questioned by police over an alleged rape upon which he pretended to receive a call from his mother and proceeded to ad lib an imaginary conversation about how is father is gravely ill and needs to see him before he dies. That is just one of many ways this survey shows how people can extricate themselves from highly sticky situations by pretending to use their mobile".

The findings are likely to send shockwaves through sociology and anthropology circles where studies into how people cope with social awkwardness by esteemed social scientists such as Geoffrey Meade and Max Weber are still treated as "the primary source of truth" on matters such as these.

Many critics argue however that because much of this work dates back to the early 20th century, it is inherently flawed and not really relevant in today's technology driven climate.

Fred Buchwald, the contemporary Welsh social commentator agrees saying, "Some dead sociologists would have you believe that the main way people deal with socially awkward situations is forced small talk on the latest Rodgers and Hammerstein or fatuous truisms on Eisenhower's latest address to the nation. It's all very middle brow and outmoded... and really downright irritating. I mean we live in a very different world now".

He went on, "the truth is that today, there are very few verbal methods of alleviating social tension still in widespread use. Of course mindless chatter about inclement or unusually fine weather will always be used to to end many awkward silences particularly among the elderly. Most young people though, reach for the phone. This study is merely added confirmation of an obvious fact".

Will pretending to use mobile phones continue to be the primary means of alleviating social tension as this century transpires? Who can say? Already however, the astromomicaI rise in the popularity of Ipods appear to be challenging its supremacy. As renowned maritime hero, Popeye the Sailorman put it, "Methinks I sees manys a younster with dem white headphones in theirs ears - much rathers spinaksk meself, ke ke ke ke ke".

One caveat - it's still socially unacceptable to begin using an Ipod when attempting to cope with an uncomfortable silence. Sure, you can prevent a conversation from occuring in the first place by listening to an Ipod but how often does one get the opportunity? Unwanted conversations have a nasty habit of springing up from no where.

I'm confident the mobile phones sheer versatily in terms of feigned usagability, therefore, will ensure it stays on top for many a year to come. Funny this article appears to be getting more subjective as it closes. Happy new year!

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The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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