“What time is it?”
The seemingly innocuous question posed by my friend as we sat at our local bar highlighted the social experiment we had embarked upon. Earlier in the evening we had decided to go for a walk, and did what many people would consider the unthinkable; we left our smart phones all alone in my living room.
The repercussions were felt almost immediately.
Now ubiquitous, cellular telephones have rendered wrist watches functionally obsolete, existing now only for the aesthetic. This left us in a somewhat unnatural position of chronological ignorance. The effects were not limited to the novel and mundane. Instead we discovered the deep social implications of unplugging ourselves from instant Internet-fuelled knowledge, social networks, and a host of handy little apps that now run our lives.
(Illustration by Malcolm Jamison)
Only minutes from my house and I began to feel phantom vibrations on my upper thigh, prompting me to grasp in vain for my absent iPhone. Was my mind simply playing tricks on me, or was I experiencing real physiological withdrawals? ‘Interesting question,’ I thought, and reached once again for my phone to record my thought for future use in this article. This was going be harder than I had anticipated. The depth of my digital dependence started to sink in as I began to fret that I might not even be able to remember to write about the experience. Thankfully our bartender was gracious enough to share not only the time, but a piece of paper and a pencil to use in the traditional form of ‘digital’ recording.
As we sat at the bar, facing each other and discussing the various random topics that came to mind, I discovered a profound change in the way we interacted. Typically, when an awkward pause invades a conversation, I turn to my phone for comfort. It is an immediate and unconscious reflex, allowing me to divert my eyes and attention from the feelings of social inadequacy that accompany the silence. It’s like burying my head in the sand, pretending our banter would have continued seamlessly, if not for the interruption provided by a text message, Facebook update, or the irresistible itch to check my email. This time however, devoid of my usual distractions, we were forced to dig in and engage on a deeper level. The result was one of the best conversations we’ve had in a very long time. Rather than stymie our interaction by removing the flow of funny YouTube videos and Flipboard news stories, we found ourselves discussing topics of substance, the kind that allow you to actually get to know someone.
Despite the surprisingly refreshing benefits of leaving my electronic best friend behind, I was plagued by nagging worries that I was missing an important work email, a text invitation to a once-in-a-lifetime party, or an emergency call from a loved one. How often do those calls really come? How did we survive at all ten years ago, before we were all constantly accessible to anyone who had our contact info? In this world of instant gratification, can we be forgiven an evening to ourselves, unavailable to our friends, family, and co- workers? The answer must be yes. The only time I am not reachable is when I’m on vacation and routinely leave my phone behind (albeit for financial reasons, damn roaming charges!). With this thought in mind I ordered a rum and coke, my libation of choice while lounging on a beach, and was instantly transported to the sunny back-corner of my mind – the illusion now complete. It bordered on blissful.
My colleagues who observe Shabbat experience this every week between sundown Friday and sundown on Saturday. I found myself envious of their weekly repose from the interconnectedness of modern life. The irony is that by withdrawing from the radio signals that tie us all together, they find themselves more connected to the family and friends with whom they share those unplugged hours. It’s unfortunate that the rest of us, with our various traditions, do not have the same built-in break from the flood of electronic communication that seems to drown out real interaction. Video may have killed the radio star, and email might have voided the art of letter writing, but smart phones are definitely destroying the art of conversation. Take note next time you are sitting around the table in a restaurant with friends and all of you are looking down at your phones, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
We have, at last, arrived at the point of this little rant. Leave your phone at home. Remove yourself from the social network. Ex-communicate yourself from your friends, or at least the ones you have decided not to spend the evening with. Dispel the distractions from the palm of your hand and connect with someone in a real way. You will find that the lost conveniences and instant gratification were weighing you down, and a new found sense of freedom will emerge from their absence.
Leave Your Phone @ Home Day was April 14th, 2012, but it can be anytime you choose.
(Photo by Matthew Sinclair)
Part 2 of our LYP@H coverage “They Really ‘Like’ Me” by Séamus Gearin can be found [here]
Part 3 “The Human Race Depends On You” by Jeff Halperin can be found [here]
Part 4 “On The Loneliness of Extraversion” by Lee-Anne Bigwood can be found [here]