Cell Phones and the ‘Entourage’ Effect

Here’s a rather startling statistic: The world population is seven billion (in itself a shocker), and of this seven billion, nearly six billion of us have mobile phones.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, everywhere you look—everywhere —someone’s on his or her phone. Talking while walking on a city sidewalk, just barely avoiding a head-on collision with a telephone pole. Texting in a car, not noticing the light’s turned green. Taking photos at a restaurant of the world’s biggest burger or an artfully arranged sashimi platter. Everywhere.

Before you think I’m pointing a finger at others, I’m not. You know that expression, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem?” I’m most definitely part of the problem.

And so, this isn’t a rant against rampant cellphone use. Mobile technology is a part of life, and like every other technological advance (except the 8-track player), there’s no turning back.

I’m simply intrigued by the side effects of a cellphone-centric society. Besides the obvious consequences—the need for speed (of response), rudeness, car accidents, overhearing conversations you wish to God you’d never heard—there’s also another byproduct of cellphone mania, and it’s this: Celebrities aren’t the only ones with an entourage anymore. Anyone with a cellphone, especially a smartphone, has his or her own entourage, too. Call it the Entourage Effect.

We’re not all like the movie star, Vince, in the HBO series Entourage, who is surrounded 24/7 by his actor-brother, best friend-business manager, and, well, “Turtle”. And we may not arrive in London for a concert with a 100-person entourage in tow as Beyonce reportedly did last year. But we do indeed have our very own entourages.

Thanks to our smartphones, we’re constantly accompanied by friends, colleagues, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, business networking connections, online dating prospects, and more.

Remember having an imaginary friend? When you were maybe three or four years old? Now, you’ve graduated from one imaginary friend to dozens or hundreds or even thousands of invisible friends who are with you at all times, even when they’re not actually there.

There’s no such thing as a “table for two”, anymore. Two really means four or six or eight or more, depending on the number of phone calls and texts that come in for you or your dining companion when you go out to eat. (And depending on the number of phone calls and texts you take. And the number you make.)

Psychoanalysts have traditionally said that in every intimate relationship, there are really six people: the couple themselves and then each one’s mother and father. Creepy, yes. But, not nearly as disturbing as what Freud would probably say about coupledom in the age of mobile technology.

Ordinary people having an entourage is a logical extension of our obsession with fame and what famous people have and own and do. There’s a feeling now that we are each the center of our own universe, star of our own reality TV show.

But I don’t believe it’s simply an over-inflated sense of self that makes us want to be in constant contact with others. It’s also the need for comfort in a sometimes scary, sometimes overwhelming, always uncertain world.

This desire for comfort (and sometimes hair color!) also partly explains the popularity of another sub-group within our vast entourage, especially for women. It’s a coterie of professionals who help them feel their best: hair stylist, manicurist, therapist, chiropracter, etc. Our reliance on others to bolster our inner and outer selves is not just the domain of the wealthy or famous. Have you noticed the proliferation of lower-cost massage storefronts lately?

What strikes me most is that these professionals are not remote figures, they’re our “peeps”! And, like the other members of our entourage, we carry them with us in our pocket or purse.

It’s easy to bemoan the myriad ways in which mobile technology is ruining intimacy and causing us to value the quantity rather than quality of our relationships. And believe me, I could go there.

But can we really be blamed for wanting to cocoon ourselves in the warmth of a world of friends and “friends” and take that world with us wherever we go?