(CBS News) Uhm, sorry, just checking my cell phone . . . a reminder of just how disconnected from our surroundings all these devices can make us. And disconnected is one of the milder things some critics say about our push-button compulsions. Our Cover Story is reported by Susan Spencer of "48 Hours":
Once upon a time, in what seems a far-off land, if you saw someone walking down the street talking to himself, you'd think he was, well, crazy.
Not any more. Ninety percent of American adults own cell phones and, whether talking or texting, it seems that 90 percent of the time, they are using them.
"These days, the minute that people are alone, at a stop sign, at the checkout line in a supermarket, they panic, they reach for a phone," said MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle.
She says high-speed connections have left us more disconnected than ever.
"I studied families who are having breakfast together, and every member of the family is texting," said Turkle. "I study funerals and people around texting.
She pointed to a recent New Yorker cover that captured the phenomenon: A family is at the beach, and each person is on their phone.
Turkle's book, "Alone Together," surveyed hundreds of people about their plugged-in lives. Her conclusion: We have lost the art of conversation.
"An 18-year-old boy talks about how he always would rather text than talk. He says, 'I'll tell you what's wrong with having a conversation - it takes place in real time, and you can't control what you're gonna say.'"
These days, texting is seen as a skill. In New York recently, thumbs were flying as teens competed for the coveted title of "America's Fastest Texter."
On average, 18- to 24-year-olds send and receive a whopping 3,200 text messages a month.
"Is it too strong to call this an addiction?" asked Spencer.
"I don't like the word addiction, personally. I think we're vulnerable," Turkle said. "I think we're smitten. We're like young lovers who are afraid too much talking will spoil the romance."
We can't take our eyes off the things, even when we should! Security cameras caught a poor woman walking, with confidence, straight into a fountain.
She just got wet, but another man could have been killed as he nonchalantly strolled off a train platform.
Around the country last year there were more than a thousand emergency room visits for these sorts of injuries.
So where would we all be if suddenly we didn't have any of these precious little devices? If we had to give up all smartphones, BlackBerries and iPads, what would happen? Could we even function?
It turns out, these are not silly questions, as researchers here at the University of Maryland discovered.
Researcher Sergey Golitsynskiy and his colleagues asked students around the world to go without their cell phones for 24 hours. "It ended up being the most horrible experience many of them had ever in their life, according to what they self-reported to us. The psychological impact was significant."