Whenever I use the Flashlight app on my iPhone, it takes everything in my willpower not to shout “Lumos!” when that magnificent little light comes on. It’s a temptation I obviously feel because I wish I lived in the Harry Potter Universe, but also because sometimes my phone makes me feel like I can literally do anything.
When I’m sitting on public transportation and I can’t remember the name of Louis’ girlfriend on Even Stevens? Boom. Wikipedia. (It’s Tawny, by the way.) When I feel like comparing other people’s lives to mine so that I can feel inadequate? Hi, Instagram. When I’m so lazy that I can’t even walk one block to wave down a taxi? Now launching Uber. This magic little device puts Harry’s wand to shame. (That’s what she said.)
My phone’s been really useful to me for a lot of things. I’ve been able to call friends and keep them on the phone with me while I was walking alone at night. I can use it now to text my grandmother and stay in touch with her more easily. I can google “brain hurts, am I having an aneurism” when I have a headache and I start freaking myself out.
But really, as useful as our phones are, it’s also extremely bizarre and slightly alarming that they feel like they’re just an extension of our hand. There’s a scene at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry’s wand is fixed after being broken in two and he gets to hold it again. The feeling he basically gets is all is now right in the world. That’s like, the same feeling I get when I lose my phone at a bar because I’m drunk and stupid but then someone points out that it’s in the waistband of my pants. Not in my pocket or my purse, but the waistband of my pants. Let me just clarify that this article is both a lament on our addiction to modern technology as well as a public service announcement about how you shouldn’t take too many shots of whiskey in a short amount of time in a public place. It’s also a plea to bring back fanny packs. Moving on.
When did our phones become our lifelines? If I leave the house one day and for some reason I forget my usual routine of quadruple-checking that my phone is in my purse, I will still turn around and come back to get it even if I’m already 10 minutes away. I wish I could say that that makes me a crazy nutcase, but I don’t think it does. I’m pretty sure most people would turn around as opposed to having to go the entire day without their phone. I guess we’re all a bunch of nutcases.
Lately, I’ve been trying to be more present in my own life. On the train home from work, I try to just sit and relax in silence, without looking at my phone. Instead, I people-watch, even if that just means watching other people play on their phones. When I’m spending time with my family or I go out to dinner with my friends, I put my phone on silent and keep it in my bag. I don’t look at it until dinner is over. It really helps me to pay attention to the people in front of me, instead of focusing on everything that’s going on everywhere except right in front of my face.
The thing is, I’m capable of doing these kinds of things because I know my phone is still there. I know it’s in my purse or in my pocket if I really, really need it. I know that if my friend gets up to go to the bathroom, I can check it then. I only have to make it a certain amount of time without looking at it. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.
The bright side is that I’ve noticed that the more I try to put my phone away and live in the moment, the less tempted I am to look at it 24/7. When I play on my phone now, I’m doing it consciously. There’s a purpose to it – I’m replying to a text message or checking my email. I used to just scroll through it absentmindedly, reflexively. Sometimes I wasn’t even seeing what was on the screen at all. It was just a habit. I had to have something to do while I wasn’t doing anything else.
I still play on my phone way too much. It does feel like an extension of my own hand, and if I go a certain amount of time without checking it, I sometimes feel disoriented. The more I work on not being on it all the time, the better I feel, but I still have a long way to go. We all do.
Sometimes, when you’re out to dinner with friends and you’re making an effort to stay off your phone, all you get to do instead is watch them play on theirs. You don’t realize how weird it all is until you take a step back from the behavior and watch someone else doing what you used to do and sometimes still do.
They keep the phone barely on the edge of the table. And if that’s too far, they’ll just hold it in their hand. You can watch their hands twitch every time their phone lights up. You can see the briefest look of disappointment on their face when it lights up by accident and they realize there’s not actually a text message or notification of any kind. You tell them a story and they reply “That’s crazy” even if the story was that you were thinking of ordering the kung pao chicken but then you changed your mind and now you’re going to go with lettuce wraps instead. Bitch that is not crazy. You just aren’t paying attention to me.
It’s hard to pay attention to the outside world when we feel like we’re holding it in our hand. It’s hard to be present at a family party if whatever is going on inside our phones is supposedly more interesting. It’s hard to even sit on the couch with our roommates and pay attention to them when our phones are right next to us. I’m not sure when we all became this way – whether it was a sick, slow process or it just happened overnight and I’m just suddenly aware of it.
Our phones don’t just seem like our wands at this point, they’ve become extensions of ourselves. They’re our way not to feel so alone. But I’m trying my best, one dinner at a time, to remember that a lot of the time, my phone is only taking me further away from people.