“Be present to the people in front of you from moment to moment. Electronics and technology have a way of clouding our vision for the people sitting next to us. Uncloud your life, look around. Be present.”
― Eric Overby
I feel like family and friend’s time, especially over the holidays, has simply morphed from all of our loved ones sharing a similar experience in the same room to everyone still sharing the same room, but all having their own experiences on their smartphones.
Sure, Home Alone, is still on the television, but we have all watched it so many times right? We can certainly watch and scroll at the same time, of course. Of course you can, but does this process not disengage you from everyone around you? Does it not slightly (or severely) mute out the conversations and pluck you into a portal of elsewhere?
Christmas cheer has morphed from doing similar, annual, repeated events together, to still doing all said events, but capturing them, for your own unique online image of what you want your Christmas to look like to others. Christmas and family time is also about looking, judging, assessing what everyone else is doing and how your events are weighing out, in comparison to others.
I cannot recall the number of times a loved one has come over and one of the first questions they have asked me is, ‘What is your Wifi password?’ Of course they hug me, tell me they miss me, compliment the house, but then it is time for business baby, “Aman, what’s the Wifi password?” The question is quick and expects efficiency in the answer.
“Places don’t matter to people any more. Places aren’t the point. People are only ever half present where they are these days. They always have at least one foot in the great digital nowhere.”
― Matt Haig
It is like an addict, itching for a fix, but I am guilty of it too. Last year, I was sitting at my in-laws house, on Christmas day and the first thing I asked my father-in law-for, at six in the morning on Christmas Day, was ‘What’s the Wifi password? I got a new phone and forgot to save the password.’ This basically translated to ‘Please give it up! Mama needs a fix!’ I made my poor father-in-law rummage through a whole pile of papers, searching desperately for that specific scrap of paper with the infamous Wifi password on it and (even though I felt guilty and a bit embarrassed) I did not stop him.
It can be super hard to simply focus on the moment happening right now. It can be really difficult to focus on anything, without flicking your phone, on at least every five minutes. It can be hard to focus on the event unravelling in front of you, if you do not document it, to prove to others how fabulous it was and that it (actually) happened.
I remember, back in the day, when I was able to sit in a library, for five hours straight, working on an assignment. One time, I was so deep in thought that the library I was working at shut down for the night and I was none the wiser. A security guard happened to see me, after locking up, because of my bright pink hoodie, sitting on the second floor, at a desk near a window, working away in a locked, dark building. Even when he came back and got my attention, he had to startle me out of my thought. Can you imagine?
Now, if I get forty-five minutes of uninterrupted writing or work done, I feel like I have completed a marathon. If I read a chapter of a book, without answering a ‘plink’ from my phone, I feel like the queen of self-control. If I get up, make coffee, feed the puppy, clean the kitchen and then check my phone, I basically deem myself the most well rounded person in the city.
Where the hell did all that focus go?
When did I become so enamoured with my phone?
I chipped away at it, little by little, until my ability to focus, uninterrupted, became a distant memory, a former version of myself, who I miss terribly.
The transition was not noticeable at first, and there were a lot of factors at play. Firstly, I did not have Facebook or any social media until very recently, so I was never big on being on my phone during social events, but then work happened.
I got a job, where being on call was part of the expectation, and I started being closer and closer to my phone. I willingly started to join social media sites, to maybe stay relevant or for a reason more socially pressured, but I still did.
I slowly went from being the person who left their phone in their bag, when they got home from work, to the person who would go back home, if they got to the train and realized they had forgotten their phone at home. Not pretty, but the truth. The transition can happen and the thing with transitioning is that you can transition again. I can work on getting closer to that girl, wearing her hot pink hoodie, so absorbed with her assignment, that she did not notice the lights in the library shut off, all the people disappear and had to be literally shook out of her deep focus.
This obsession with being within reaching distance of our phones is a massive problem. This obsession with recording all of our life events is ridiculous, like who the hell is going back and re-watching their Lionel Richie concert footage? Seriously, I want to know, so why the hell record it? It is all absurd to me, but I understand it, to a degree.
It can be frustrating when others are doing it to you, but seemingly, completely justifiable when you are doing it to another. I was having a really bad day and called a girlfriend for a coffee. The entire time I was lamenting about some bullshit epidemic in my life (at the time it seemed really important, so let me have it) she kept looking at her phone.
I was so pissed off, but I kept trying to restrain myself. Now, if that had been my partner, I would have torn his head off with my words, but I tried to refrain doing that with a friend, but I could not help but be hurt by her actions. Her phone was not even ‘plinking’ half the times she checked it, she was just checking and responding to incoming emails, texts, or whatever the hell she was receiving because she wanted to. I stopped asking her for coffee after that day. Honestly, I do not even know if she noticed that I have pulled away, because she is probably still responding to text messages to be fair.
I am working actively at stopping this situation. When I meet a friend, I do keep my phone out, but only respond to calls, or check to see who is calling and if it is necessary to answer, then I answer, but texts and emails can wait the sixty minutes, until I am done having a cup of coffee with this person. I am not running the country, I assure you everyone will live.
We need to stop this shit; we need to be better about our phone usage. We need to be better for ourselves. I do not have clear cut solutions to all of the problems, but I am working on a few of them. I try to check my social media a few times a day, but not every time I have a few minutes to spare. I try to read an interesting article, if I am waiting at the doctor’s office or for a friend, instead of giving Instagram the good old scroll through. I listen to a podcast on the train to and from work, which is so much more valuable than ‘liking’ one more smiling face on Insta. I am trying, but it can be hard because we are now in a society which is bored so quickly that I feel we have to start assessing what we do with these pockets of time.
I was watching The Firm last night and I consciously got up to get my phone from the kitchen. The Firm was not enough? Tom Cruise, in all of his 90’s glory was not enough to fulfill my need for entertainment? Obviously not, which is super sad for me because it was a good movie, and I had no need to ‘check’ Instagram during the parts of the movie where I assumed were slow, I knew what was going to happen, or did not really need to listen to the character’s conversation so indepthly.
How sad. Can you imagine? Feeling above the lines of a movie and picking and choosing which parts of the movie get your full attention? I had never watched this movie before, but since it was old, and a lawyer movie, I decided I would Instagram to fill in the boring parts. This whole action has really made me think about my personal addiction to my phone and just checking in on everything, when there is absolutely nothing to check-in on.
I am working on this, but it is making me wonder so many things about myself. How long could I go with Wi-Fi?
I have always had this romantic notion that I would do my thesis somewhere remote, like a cabin in the woods or somewhere sandy and sunny, and all I would have with me are my hard copy articles, notes, a laptop and no wifi.
“There are few times that I feel more at peace, more in tune, more Zen, if you will, than when I force myself to unplug.”
― Harlan Coben
Would I survive?
Would I even select such a location now?
What would happen if I did not read CNN first thing when I turned on my computer in the morning?
What would happen if I could not order that book I have been wanting to read off Amazon right now, right this instant?
Would I burst into flames?
“We all need a technological detox; we need to throw away our phones and computers instead of using them as our pseudo-defence system for anything that comes our way. We need to be bored and not have anything to use to shield the boredom away from us. We need to be lonely and see what it is we really feel when we are. If we continue to distract ourselves so we never have to face the realities in front of us, when the time comes and you are faced with something bigger than what your phone, food, or friends can fix, you will be in big trouble.”
― Evan Sutter