I’m a big fan of The Book of Life, a project of The School of Life. One of the latest updates to this project is about the pervasive use of smartphones in society.
To say we are addicted to our phones is not merely to point out that we use them a lot. It signals a darker notion: that we use them to keep our own selves at bay. Because of our phones, we may find ourselves incapable of sitting alone in a room with our own thoughts floating freely in our own heads, daring to wander into the past and the future, allowing ourselves to feel pain, desire, regret and excitement.
I feel this. I want my mind to wander, but I also kind of want to be informed. I want to be entertained.
We have to check our phones of course but we also need to engage directly with others, to be relaxed, immersed in nature and present. We need to let our minds wander off of their own accord. We need to go through the threshold of boredom to renew our acquaintance with ourselves.
The diminutive digital assistants in our pockets do our bidding and unlock a multitude of possibilities.
Our phone, however, is docile, responsive to our touch, always ready to spring to life and willing to do whatever we want. Its malleability provides the perfect excuse for disengagement from the trickier aspects of other people. It’s almost not that rude to give it a quick check – just possibly we might actually need to keep track of how a news story is unfolding; a friend in another country may have just had a baby or someone we vaguely know might have bought a new pair of shoes in the last few minutes.
It’s a cliché to say that it’s the small things in life that make it worth living, but it’s true.
Our phones seem to deliver the world directly to us. Yet (without our noticing) they often limit the things we actually pay attention to. As we look down towards our palms we don’t realise we are forgetting:
- The curious delicacy of a friend’s wrist
- The soothing sound of traffic in the distance
- Moss on an old stone wall
- The pleasure of feeling tired after working hard
- The excitement of getting up very early on a summer’s morning, in order to have an hour entirely to oneself.
- A bank of clouds gradually drifting across the sky
- The texture and smell and colour of a ripe fig
- The shy hesitancy of someone’s smile
- How nice it is to read in the bath
- The comfort of an old jumper (with holes under the armpits)
Every technology is a ‘bridging’ technology in the sense of coming after something less sophisticated, and before something more sophisticated. My hope is that we iterate towards, rather than away, from what makes us human.
We are still so far from inventing the technology we really require for us to flourish; capitalism has delivered only on the simplest of our needs. We can summon up the street map of Lyons but not a diagram of what our partner is really thinking and feeling; the phone will help us follow fifteen news outlets but not help us know when we’ve spent more than enough time doing so; it emphatically refuses to distinguish between the most profound needs of our soul and a passing fancy.
As ever, a fantastic article.
Source: The Book of Life
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