“It’s sad when I am with my grandchildren and they are constantly like this with their smartphones,” someone recently shared with me as she mimed hunching over a smartphone. “But the saddest part is that I’m doing it too.”
This is nothing new. Cell phones and smartphones have become ingrained into our tech-savy societies today. When I was growing up, I didn’t have a cell phone until high school, and I didn’t get a smart phone until around my junior year of college. The thing is, I didn’t feel like I needed one. Since the campus had wi-fi, I could always check my email with my iPod. It was only when I went to renew my phone contract and get a new phone that I saw the not smart phone selection was of such poor quality! And now, ever since I switched from an Android to an iPhone (about three months now), I have become more addicted to those stupid games (Candy Crush Saga and Sims Freelife). And while yes, those games are fun and fill up those small voids of free time, such as sitting on a train, I have recently realized how much these phones disconnect us from people — and the people we love.
My boyfriend hates Candy Crush with a fiery passion. He lets out an exasperated sigh whenever he sees me on it. To give some context, I’m on level 350. Yowza. He has adopted a “Three Strikes” rule. Basically, he gives me a strike when he notices me on the game and I have up to three strikes a day before I must quit the app. At first, I didn’t understand why it got under his skin so much. Sometimes I’d play while he was busy doing his own thing or while we were watching a TV show. But then he shared with me one day that it really bothers him because there are times when he begins to be affectionate, like holding me closer, but I don’t reciprocate or really notice because I am so focused on the game. And I felt so terrible when I realized that I was giving my attention to a game over someone I love. And to make things worse, even though I now know why he hates me playing Candy Crush, I haven’t stopped playing. I just play less in his presence.
To be honest, I do miss the simpler days, when we aren’t tapped into the net 24/7. Why can’t we leave the house for a day without our phones? After all, no one calls us these days (not many anyway). I miss when I would read for hours on end, without an desire to do anything else. These days reading for thirty minutes is a challenge because our phones and emails and feeds call out to us, “Cheeeeck meeeeee.”
Lately there have been some videos critiquing smartphones that have gone viral. The first (that I saw) was this movie by Charlene deGuzman, titled I Forgot My Phone. Gawker describes it as “a short film she wrote about life in these modern, soul-sucking, smartphone-saturated times.”
The video makes me realize all over again how much we miss out on when we’re so busy trying to record it or share it on our phones. We forget how to have debates and deep conversations because we google the answer instead. We don’t give our full attention to what we are doing, or who we are doing it with.
And here is the latest viral post I’ve seen on smart phones, where Louis C.K. explains why he hates smartphones:
Louis C.K. first starts by explaining how toxic smart phones are, especially for kids who haven’t truly learned empathy yet. Being able to truly interact and understand people. Instead we have kids learning to read into Facebook statuses and Facebook likes (explored in this short film Noah). People don’t grow to have intelligent conversations with their peers in real life anymore.
But C.K.’s second point is just as poignant. He talks about our fear of being alone. We are so afraid of being by ourselves that we would rather text while driving instead of being all right with being in our own skins. And it hinders us from really feeling at all. By blocking out loneliness, we also block out happiness. By blocking out being alone, we also block out true introspection.
You know that spare moment on the train when you’re surrounded by strangers? In the past, we would look around and really look at people (while trying to pretend we aren’t looking) — at least I would. We would see real faces with real stories. We hear the clamor of the train tracks. We see how physically uncomfortable someone is in the crowded train, and we get up and offer our seat. Instead, today, we put on our headphones to block out the world. We hunch over our phones are play a game or read an article or check our emails. We don’t look at the scenery outside. We don’t imagine stories about everyone around us. Our phones become a buffer between us and the world.
Am I saying we should all throw out our phones? Well, ok, we all know it’s not really going to happen. But all of us smartphone users should really try and forget about our phones sometimes. Turn off those notifications that tell you to play a game. Turn off all those reminders about work. Hell, turn off your phone! For even just an hour or two (I swear, everything will still be where you left it). And invite some friends over! Have a dinner party. Learn to cook risotto with them. Play a game or two or three of Settlers of Catan (gosh, it’s so addicting! – but at least you’re playing with real people). I swear you won’t regret it because this was my last Saturday, and it was a blast.