What does it mean to get lost in the iWorld? My understanding of what my iPhone provided me became clear when I started working at a special needs school in my hometown of Dallas. We worked 6-10 hour days, depending on the school schedule, and had no formal breaks. While all of us loved our jobs and our students passionately, it was tough to be “on” for so many consecutive hours. Sure, there were occasional lulls in our need to supervise, like at the end of the day when the kids were in computer lab or the savored trip to the bathroom, but we were emotionally “on” for the majority of the day with little time for metal rest.
My fellow employees knew exactly what those moments meant. They provided the rare opportunities to pull out our phones and scroll, scroll through the social media feeds and photos of our friends, scroll through the articles and memes imbuing the world outside the laminated maps and periodic table of elements. Our thumbs became our ticket out of our immediate environment, sucking us in and ejecting us out into two-dimensional tropical landscapes framed by painted toenails and intentionally angled cocktail straws. What a welcome break it was to transcend the heat-soaked playground and head straight for the Twittersphere, opening up the worlds of Congress, Big Boi, and beyond.
In other words, our phones let our minds take a break when we had little other (physical) avenue. It was a break that was purely in the realm of consciousness. Not to mention that playing on our phones was absolutely forbidden by our boss, yet almost impossible for him to regulate, making it possible to sneak in a little resistance in the convenience of our own laps.
Though our bodies remained present, our nonlocal minds flew off into the farthest reaching corners of the globe. And we stayed sane because of it.
Was it a great idea, ultimately? Of course not. Seeing us on our phones drove the kids CRAZY. They craved their daily dose of Angry Birds, and technology was essentially banned in the classroom, making our little devices even more tantalizing in their eyes. I felt so guilty each time I pulled out my phone to do some intergalactic thumb travel, as I knew my compulsive habit was very much being watched and internalized by the kids.
That being said, it led to an important realization on my part concerning my relationship with my phone, which is that I use it to escape. It’s neither a good nor a bad thing, as at times it has proved absolutely necessary. But in other times, I realize how important it is for me to sit through the discomfort or impatience of waiting in a line, for a bus, or what have you. My ego-consciousness can be trained to sit through the desire to escape when it’s not truly necessary, when being present (literally, having my consciousness present in my body) is more important than being entertained.
Full disclosure: I’m tapping this out on my touchscreen as I sit in the Newark airport waiting to board my flight. As I look around me, the only people with their heads upright and outside the glow of a screen are grayhaired and bespectacled, holding newspapers or simply sitting, being. I wonder if that makes me a hypocrite, but then I remember that I’m essentially writing in my journal right now. So in the grand scheme of things, it’s all good.