Silent mode is the new “power off.” No physical space is free from the alluring glow of smartphone screens and the people who use them without discernment. I’m guilty of keeping my phone on and even checking it a few times during a film at the movie theater to make sure the babysitters aren’t sending a plea for help.
Inwardly, I justify my inability to mentally and physically disengage because I’m a parent and it’s just a movie I’m distracted from. Obviously it’s okay to check my phone in the theater because someone might need me. What if someone gets hurt? What if the kids lock the sitters outside? What if the sitters can’t find the healthy snacks and when they can’t reach me they give the kids handfuls of candy instead?
Each minute of digital availability is a consumption of something as unhealthy for the mind as handfuls of candy for the body. Constant connection reduces autonomy. In a microcosm example, if I’m unavailable, the sitters must make decisions both big and small on their own. Caring for young people carries a certain weight of responsibility that is diminished when any and every decision can be approved with a quick text message, not to mention the children are deprived an opportunity to learn patience if they’re able to make requests to their parent via the sitter’s smartphone.
Recently I confessed to a friend that I was emotionally overwhelmed by the constant connection my smartphone propagates. We reflected back to a time when you had a couple of days to return a phone call on your landline. Contrasted with today’s demands for immediate satisfaction, two days feels like an eternity to wait for a reply. People start rallying search parties when it takes someone more than 24 hours to reply to a text message! Why are our expectations different in the age of the smartphone?
Why It’s Hard To Put Down Your Phone
While there is fascinating research being done to understand what phones are doing to us physically and mentally, philosophic considerations should be deliberated too. What compels us to constantly pick up our phones? My own reflection has determined the 3 D’s: disinterest, dissatisfaction, and discomfort.
Disinterest is why waiting rooms are full of people on their phones. People like to be consuming information, even if it’s frivolous. Waiting rooms used to house piles of magazines on the side tables, or televisions blaring cheesy talk shows.
What’s wrong with waiting quietly? It’s boring. Smartphones mean we never need to be bored again. There’s always someone familiar to connect with via text or social media, there’s always news to read, there’s always a game to play, or a podcast to listen to. Entertainment is available 24/7, even during the brief cycle of a traffic signal.
Dissatisfaction begs us for distraction. Who wants to simmer about a recent breakup or how they haven’t travelled the world? Ironically, social media is where it’s easiest to turn when we aren’t happy with our life. It’s possible to scroll for hours and visually feast on other people’s lives without reflecting inward.
Discomfort is related to disinterest and dissatisfaction, enveloping both because it holds all of the feelings people don’t like. When a quick message lets someone know I’m running late, my digital confession has already alleviated my guilty conscience before I’ve even arrived. It doesn’t reinforce that being late is uncomfortable- it helps me forget about it sooner.
When I’m able to be entertained any time of day, I need not mentally replay that awkward joke I made or listen to my conscience prodding me about how impatient I can be with the kids.
Consumption of information and constant connection are at least in part a way for people to escape from the discomforts of the thought world. We’re constantly inputting information instead of processing it. It can be a dangerous place where ideas flow uninterrupted and without direction from the millions of voices on the internet.
Originality, conviction, and peace thrive communally in the thought world. Banned books are written there and the flames of civil disobedience are fanned. If we want to create great things, we must learn to spend time in the thought world away from the destructive, invasive influence of our screens.