We all agree to an extent, that being connected by smartphones and technology sometimes to the level that we know what is happening at that very second in a person’s life or what color the lilies at someone’s wedding were or what is so-and-so dude eating at which restaurant or what kind of underwear she Snapchat me at 4 a.m. in the morning is more addictive than we all give it credit for. We want to scroll through our news feed on Facebook more than the actual news feed of events around the world, we want to read and write tweets more than writing a good, old-fashioned letter and want to take pictures to apply filter so we’re more popular online than creating real memories with real people.
The thought: I used to be one of those people smitten with the technology that smart phones were adapting. Everything at our fingertips – instant messaging, photos of friends, browsing through Facebook and updating statuses, maps readily available so you don’t ever get lost. Don’t get me wrong, life is definitely easier with smartphones at our disposal. It is easier to communicate with a friend half way around the world with an instant message, to order pizza through an app, to send messages when you’re in a meeting for that instant response, to be able to check the weather as soon as you open your eyes. But this has also made us unconsciously retract ourselves further away from each other. Sure, we can communicate on a daily basis – emails, IMs, tweets and such but we don’t actually know how to connect with someone. We live in a society where talking in person is a lost art really; like oral sex. I’m a self-proclaimed cook (I like to think I’m a pretty decent cook but my friends on the other hand think my meals are finger licking delicious and I should be opening up my own restaurant rather than working as a Materials Scientist). While I was in grad school, I’d have these urges to throw dinner parties and have my roommates and other friends over. Wine, good food, people you love, Pictionary and plenty of laughter and conversations – perfect mix for a great evening; or so one would think. In the middle of dinner and a few drinks, I (the host!) would grab my phone to get myself updated on my absence from social media for the mere hour or so I didn’t have the phone in my hand and reply to those gazillion WhatsApp messages I would get (I didn’t get more than 3 or 4 at any given point in time). Instead of plugging off from the world for an evening with friends (which never lasted more than 4 to 5 hours), as the host, I’d be on the phone while the people around me would be laughing and talking and reminiscing about that one time when that one friend did this one thing. I was a slave to my phone.
The epiphany: One Sunday evening I was at a local bar/pizza joint. I was alone so naturally I sat at the bar like all the other people drinking alone, usually do. The bartender poured my beer and I started drinking. The Sunday football game was on and I quietly watched the game, checking my phone like I usually do every 20-30 minutes or so. A family of 5 walked in and sat at a booth. Mother, father, two late teen girls (or at least that’s how old they looked) and a young, probably 11-12 year old boy. I didn’t pay much attention to the family after the first glance as I was busy drinking my amber and building up my appetite for the pie I was about to devour, while watching the game. On a second look at the family, I noticed a weird energy between them. The conversation wasn’t quite present and from their lip movement it seemed like the questions and answers were of a monosyllable nature. I didn’t bat an eye because my pizza had arrived (God bless pizza) and I started eating. Halfway through my meal, I saw the family just had their food laid out on the table. What got to me was that all of them had their heads buried in their phones, each and every one of them down to the youngest kid. Their food sat there for a good 5-7 minutes before they realized to put their phones away. Even while eating, there was little to no conversation amongst them. Coming from an upbringing where phones weren’t allowed at the dining table, my heart dropped to my stomach. This was not only because I was brought up differently or because their food was getting cold. It was simply because I realized how distant we have become from each other even though we’re more connected than ever. That feeling was like an imaginary blow to my head so hard that I started sweating, literally. I was feeling weirdly sad and mortified at the sight of the body language between those five. All my life (from the time I owned a smartphone) flashed in front of my eyes. Right then, I chugged the rest of my beer and decided that it was time for a change, at least for me.
The afterthought: Most of us are slaves too, as I have come to notice. We don’t pick up the phone and call someone to hear their voice any more. We’re comfortable in IM/WhatsApp and content in not wanting to answer a call and letting it go to voicemail only so later we can IM/WhatsApp that person to say you missed their call. Gone is that time when the only response to a missed call was a call back. Gone is the time when you could literally laugh out loud on the phone with someone as supposed to typing “Lol” to a joke when in reality, at that moment in time you’re definitely NOT laughing out loud. We have become so satisfied in having and living a second life on the internet that we find it easier to swipe left and right, or rate someone 5 stars than going up to that cute girl and striking up a conversation to ask her out (which according to today’s standards is considered “creepy” if it is any less than perfect). Even if that does succeed and you’re sitting across that girl talking, laughing and flirting; a single ring or vibration on the phone will divert your attention away from the other person like you’re suffering from the last stage of ADD. When was the last time we picked up the phone and called someone we were thinking about that day or when was the last time you switched the phone off on a date or put the phone down when you’re out and about with friends and family.
I am not going to lie and say it is easy. It is hard but it is also a learning process. Since my switch, I find myself calling and talking more often, not being on the phone when I’m out with other people, actually listening and paying attention to when people talk, having so much more free time now that I am not hypnotized by my phone and most of all – it is utterly liberating of a feeling to actually not be a slave to technology any more than I should be. Also – the size of my current phone (Nokia 8801) is one that actually is meant to fit in a pocket, unlike the newer Samsungs, the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I encourage anyone and everyone to try it out, even if for a short period of time just to know what it feels like to make technology your bitch and not the other way around. I like it so far and I will try and stick to this as much as I can, even after I switch back to owning a smart phone.