This morning I woke up and the first thing I did, before breakfast, before a shower, before taking a breath or admiring the rising sun or allowing the birds in my neighbor’s tree to sing their brief but soothing song, was check my phone. We are told there are the cynics of the future out there who will call this an age of addiction, reaching for my phone was a sign of our deplorable times, an era when we were so unquenchably attached to our devices that it prevented us from having any genuine real world relationships.
I’d like to humbly offer a counter point to this thesis:
When I checked my phone this morning I had several missed texts, one from one of my best friends who lives in Connecticut, several from a group message of a wedding party I’ll be in this July, a drunk dial message from an old friend, and a twitter notification from a follower and friend in Australia.
I continued my morning routine and sat down a half hour later to work from my laptop at home. I took a break when I noticed Nate Ruess, an artist I’d followed since his time in The Format over ten years ago, was doing an AMA on reddit about his new album. I listened on Facebook, and then popped over to ask him about a recurring lyric I had noticed between albums. He answered, and I got back to work.
At lunch I decided to go out, and finish work at a coffee shop. On the walk I continued to listen to Nate’s new album and analyzed his lyrics a little more with the added inside information. Also I texted my friends. I sent a short video to my Connecticut friend to express a joke using body language. She sent back a meme she found that referenced an inside joke that came from our snapshot exchanges last year. Yes, I texted while I was walking. Don’t worry, I didn’t run into anyone, in fact I smiled and waved at my neighbor as we passed, and bought lemonade from a girl on the side of the road. “25 cents!” I said, “You’re gonna make millions!”.
At the coffee shop I worked until another friend of mine stopped by to pick up a water bottle. I closed the laptop and put down the phone to talk for a half an hour. We caught up, joked about the ease in which rentable napping lofts in New York could be perverted, and exchanged advice for the nearing changes in our lives.
Tonight I may Skype with my parents, or catch up on twitter with a fabulous soul mate, whose taking months off from being a lawyer to hike the Appalachian trail. He’s posting updates on instagram for his mom and little sister to watch. Yesterday he passed through a town we had stopped at on our road trip across the US and devoured the same mouth watering ribs we had relished in five years ago. He called to tell me they were just as amazing as the were back in 2010.
And as I write, the group text of the wedding party just reverted back to an certain breed of immature humor I haven’t remembered since high school, which it would, being made up of a group of guys that grew up on the same street in our small town in Pennsylvania.
Now before you fully submit the to image you’ve already begun building of me; a Macklmore-haircutted, flannel-wearing hipster, brooding at his laptop in a coffee shop in Cambridge MA, writing about virtues of instagram and twitter… Horrific. Let me first offer the opinion that this disconnect we feel in each other in the real world is not bred from our lives being sucked into our devices. It’s because we don’t know how to be present. We haven’t yet learned how to love and indulge in the now. We’re not being mindful with our phones the same way we’re being mindful while hiking the White Mountains with camp friends.
The reason we have begun developing ethics of phone use at dinner, spreading the meme of piling them all in the center and the first person who reaches in picks up the check, is not because we are learning how to get clean from an addiction. It’s because we are learning how to become more present in a world saturated with meaningful relationships and interactions.
We are not less connected, we are more connected than we’ve ever been. We are linking over continents, in fleeting moments, about content so personally profound that it bares significant appreciation.
As we approach the singularity the more important attribute will not be grumpily dragging our feet, refusing to update from our first generation phones, removing ourselves from Facebook for a month while we reassess its cultural role. It will be to indulge in every part of our lives with purpose. That includes our lives online and our lives offline. It means we will need to acknowledge that we are culturally evolving into a technological species, while remaining incased in the bodies of social animals. We feel real joy from witnessing the smile of a friend and sweating next to strangers, moving our bodies to live music, feeling the cheek of a friend pressed against ours, and eye contact while we talk. We also feel it from snapchat, from participating in a thick cultural wave like pop-music, from honoring where we came from with group texts. Our challenge here will not have a binary answer, and when we finally overcome this adjustment as a generation we will be interacting IRL with emotionally, intellectually, and creatively fulfilled beings, and it will thanks to our devices.