Siri: What is the meaning of life?
I don’t know anymore is what she should say. Instead, she (it) just spouts back “Lord Vader, you’re holding me. The iPhone 4[ish] is the best lifestyle addition you could possibly have. Through my easy-to-use system you can access an ever-sprawling selection of applications and music to keep you in touch and having fun on the go!” Or rather, that’s what she might say if I didn’t use an Android. Though lacking the personal sense of satisfaction that appears to befall many who pay more with iPhone, the two are essentially the same device. A device that in the span of a decade has changed the nature of human existence.
Sorry, I got a Facebook notification. Where was I? Ah yes, our obsession with smartphones.
Our phones embody us. That tiny slab of microchips encased in a hot-pink bejewelled Hello Kitty protector in our pockets is our lifeline to life. Though the one question that seems to have been greatly overlooked since accepting our place in the digital cult we call modern life is “Why?” Why do we care about keeping up with Facebook notifications, replying to e-mail immediately, and having the ability to avoid live interaction by texting?
Without touching on the potential future implications of pawning off our personal information for admission into this cult, the biggest problem with our over-saturation in connectedness is in fact, ourselves. We’ve created new personas to exist in the virtual (avatars if you will), and we judge their worth on what their followers think. Our virtual-selves jaunt about the Internet sharing, liking and commenting on everything and nothing they deem relevant. Through our walls/feeds/albums/etceteras we can share any thought/link/picture/diary entry with an often greatly exaggerated list of ‘friends’. Then, when someone (anyone) responds to or “Likes” it, we know we’ve succeeded. Our tastes are worthy. The amount of attention we can give to how much attention we’re getting is far more indicative of modern interpersonal relationships than it should be. This digital cult works like a bizzarro Ponzi Scheme: join us and get others to follow you, then you shall receive your reward. Though, in the case of our virtual social existence, the reward isn’t usually monetary but momentary self-worth.
It all began when Steve Jobs released the iPhone in 2007. Sure, Waterloo’s RIM may have been the first to show us how powerful our handhelds can be and were creating a culture of their own at the time with Blackberry, but it was the touch-screen phone that changed everything by making the technology seem casual. A casual device that will change your life forever. That’s exactly why we can easily identify with them. They are easy to use and so very customizable to who we think we are. Not only do they contain our schedules and access to every form of publicly available long-distance communication, but our app and music collections are there representing us, our taste and what we believe is necessary to have around.
Choice isn’t the predicament we’re facing in our new digital cloud, however. It’s the culture of choice that has spawned from it. iCulture.
Late last year, a copywriting student in Chicago, Jake Reilly, set out on what he dubbed “The Amish Project”. For ninety days he disconnected from the world of virtual communication. He hand-wrote letters, used payphones, and before embarking on his journey, told his mom he loved her. He summarizes his journey poignantly in this short video collage:
One of the greatest observations to take away from this ‘experiment’ that would have been called ‘life’ fifteen years ago is that we’re always seeking distraction. With the advent and proliferation of iCulture (Android, Blackberry, Windows and, dare-I-say-it, Palm users are not excepted from this term), we have the ability to find that distraction whenever we’re getting a signal… and we take full advantage of it. We neglect to consider what else we could be doing with our time and reserve social interaction for those we already know or have a vested interest in.
Checking two Facebook notifications doesn’t take much when you’re out and about doing things, but how about fifty? When was the last time you stood alone in a long line and took in your surroundings? Or for that matter, talked to the person beside you? One recent study found that people now spend more time on mobile apps than they do using an actual computer to surf the web. If you’re reading this article on your mobile, we forgive you, but generally speaking – Put your phone down!
The Internet grants anyone with the technology the ability to explore next to infinite musical genres, acts, and Rebecca Blacks. We can then load our collections onto our iPods, iPhones, iPads (or any non-Apple device that does the same thing) and take them with us everywhere. This not only allows us to discover new songs and artists as we get on in our Po-Mo existence, but also share our discoveries with friends.
With this great exposure, a pandemic of digitally-produced musical ADD has altered how we enjoy our various tastes. The age of the album and the mix tape/CD are nearly done. We now create portable playlists to work well on shuffle, because if we’ve already listened something through once or twice, why would we want to hear it again? That’s boring, right? Music isn’t only remastered for iTunes today, it’s produced to sound best on our earphones. iCulture has quite simply killed our patience.
Our little digital-womb-tethers are great in many ways. They give us the power to learn, laugh and connect with someone wherever we go. Except many of us seem to be forgetting that the real world does too. The convenience of instantly knowing everything, all the time, has become an unhealthy addiction and we’ve reached the stage where we should seek treatment for it.
So, why not go a little Amish sometimes? Untether yourself from from the expansive world of digital communication. Stop looking at your hands and make eye contact with someone. Leave your phone at home, grab a camera, pen & pad, book, Frisbee, coffee – whatever, and remember what life was like before you became so goddamn popular.
Leave Your Phone @ Home Day was April 14th, 2012, but it can be anytime you choose.
Part 1 of our LYP@H coverage “The Phoneless Journey” by Danny DeVito 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]