Is your phone making you clueless? Man misses whale from two feet away

A man glued to his phone misses the whale sighting of a lifetime. Is this just a sign of the times?

Be careful not to text your life away – you could be missing a whale of an opportunity.

An Instagram photo by professional photographer Eric Smith surfaced this week that has many grimacing. The photo shows a man sitting on his sailboat, absorbed by his phone, while a large humpback whale surfaces mere feet away from the unaware sailor. According to Mr. Smith, the moment took place during a whale watch in Redondo Beach, California.

"A small private sailboat maneuvered really close to the whales, and this guy on it was literally sitting in that position and never moved," Smith told ABC News. "He could have been texting his mom in the hospital for all I know, but I thought it sucked that he missed such a wonderful moment happening just two feet in front of him."

Apparently it was not the only whale he missed. Smith said he was able to capture about five photos with whales near the sailboat, but the man never noticed.

"We're all guilty being buried in our phones, even me," Smith said. "You think life is better on your phone, but we’re missing what’s happening around us."

According to Pew Research Center, as of January 2014, about 90 percent of American adults possessed cell phones. Of those, 67 percent find themselves checking their phones for notifications, even in the absence of phone ringing or vibrating. About 44 percent of cell-phone owners have slept with their phones next to their beds in fear of missing calls or messages.

Why is it so difficult for us to put down our phones?

With the advent of cell phones, particularly smartphones, we are more connected than any previous generation. We have millions of potential interactions at our fingertips, and a way to consume information faster than ever. In a Time Mobility Poll, surveyors found that 76 percent of Americans believe phones help them connect more with family and friends, as well as increase their knowledge of current events. But perhaps we’ve taken it too far.

“It is hard to think of any tool, any instrument, any object in history with which so many developed so close a relationship so quickly as we have with our phones,” said Nancy Gibbs of Time Magazine in response to the poll. “It is a form of sustenance, that constant feed of news and notes and nonsense, to the point that twice as many people would pick their phone over their lunch if forced to choose.”

This new dependency on phones is being reflected and brought to attention in popular media, and not just for distracted whale-watchers. Last year, popular urban graffiti artist Banksy created a mural in Bristol, UK featuring a couple embracing; rather than looking at each other, they gaze at their respective cell phones from behind the other’s shoulder. Borderless News and Views writes, “[T]his unsolicited public artwork asks: ‘Is social media making us antisocial?’”

Others express the same sentiment. Writer and actress Charlene deGuzman created the YouTube video “I Forgot My Phone” to explore the idea of being present and living in the moment, cell phone free. In the video, which has been viewed over 46 million times, she juxtaposes “living life” with “capturing life” in a powerful way.

“It's not until very recently that I've discovered the joy in being in the moment,” wrote Ms. deGuzman, reported the Daily Mail. “Listening to people, looking at faces, expressions, details, looking at the colors of things, smelling smells, tasting food. And it’s not until now that I've realized that everyone – including me – is on their phones. A lot.”

Gibbs writes in Time Magazine:

“There’s a smartphone gait: the slow sidewalk weave that comes from being lost in conversation rather than looking where you’re going . . . Thumbs are stronger, attention shorter, temptation everywhere: We can always be, mentally, digitally, someplace other than where we are.”

[Editor's note: In the original story, Charlene deGuzman was incorrectly identified as the director of "I Forgot My Phone." The video was directed by Miles Crawford.]

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