It’s nothing new. We’ve all seen it, or worse been a part of it. You look around a restaurant and there’s bound to be at least one table of offenders. Groups of friends, people on dates, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s around, we’re all tied up in our smartphones. It always bums me out to see a couple on a date in a nice restaurant -- beautiful lighting, beautiful food, and beautiful company -- who are both, separately, fully enthralled with what’s happen on the tiny screen in front of them. I want to shake them and scream, “Pay attention, you idiots!” because I know that there’s likely no way that whatever they’re looking at on screen is as good as what’s right in front of their eyes. But it doesn’t matter what I think. Despite all my rage, I am still just a sucker for my smartphone.
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of it at some point. We’ve all checked an email or aimlessly scoured Facebook status updates on our phones when we should have been focused on something or someone else at some time or another. We’ve all nodded along to a conversation while working on upping our score on Angry Birds.We’ve all told a story or two without removing our eyes from our handheld cyber world. And, after years of practice, I can finally text and walk! But I don’t think this is anything to be proud of.
It’s rude. And It’s not how we were raised.
Last week, the Millennials' prophet Louis CK candidly discussed his distaste for cell phones with Conan O’Brien. The clip from the show went viral right away. I must have “liked” 11 different re-posts of it on Facebook within its first day of circulation.
He made a lot of really strong points:
-How we no longer value the importance of eye contact during conversation.
-How we are incapable of just sitting, quietly, doing nothing without stimulation (also referred to as “being alive”).
-And how we use our cell phones as a security blanket to help us not feel alone.
He said it really funny, but we all got the point. Louis CK wants us to feel our feelings.
I watched the video twice then gave it a “thumbs up” on YouTube. Looking back, it should have occurred to me to feel a tinge of shame that I did so from my smartphone while standing in line for a movie with friends, but in the moment I was preoccupied leaving a witty comment.
Somewhere along the line it became normal to act this way. It went from being considered rude to field a phone call during dinner to being common, maybe even expected. Actually, at this point, not receiving some kind of electronic communication during the course of a meal would be surprising. We are more connected than ever, yet our digital addiction leaves us isolated. As wearable devices like Google Glass threaten to detach us even further, it might be time to admit that the machines have taken over!
But we are not powerless to stop them, all we need is a little digital detox and some self control.
Last year, San Francisco native Brian “Lil B” Perez and his friends popularized a new real-life social game called “Phone Stack” (actually they called it “Don’t Be A D*ck While Having Meals With Friends,” but let’s not split hairs). Perez posted the rules on his Tumblr page and wouldn’t ya know it, the craze took off.
The rules are simple. As the name suggests, guests stack their phones face-down in the middle of the table during meal time. The first person who flips their phone over is stuck paying the bill. This is what it has come down to, folks. In order to carry on in-person conversations with our friends, we must first feel financial pressure. If you can’t afford dinner for five, you better start taking an active interest in Kevin or whoever happens to be across from you. It’s kind of silly, really. But it works. Phone stacking gets people talking, and even if it is only to avoid the dinner bill, it’ a step in the right direction. It was smart to turn it into a “game,” people love winning games.
In other circles, smartphones are simply not invited to the party. Many celebrities have banned smartphones (and photography) from their events. While normal civilians have banished them from their bedrooms, dinner tables and “me” time, some find it useful to have a curfew, no phones after 11 pm, no exceptions. In most cases, hiding the offending device and setting up clear consequences for its use have been the most successful tactics. Out of sight, out of mind, that’s what they say.
Huffington Post’s Kimberly Brooks wants us to take it one step further. In a recent blog, she argues for the banning of the ever-popular “meal shot.” She explains that our words could do just as good a job describing our delicious meals as our Instagram shots. Even as an offender of both texting during social interactions and taking meal shots, I have to agree. I’m willing to let go.
It used to be cool to have a cell phone, to always be able to reach out and be reached. Now it’s disconnecting that gives us satisfaction. I am not a life-saving surgeon or an OBGYN, I do not need to be reached 24/7, I don’t want to be. I want to go back to my favorite game of “people watching.” I want to look my friends in the eyes when I tell them something. I want to sleep through the night without East Coast text messages arriving to wake me. I want to disconnect so I can reconnect.
So what do you say? How about we put the phones down and get in touch with the world? We can blog about it later, but first we need to experience it.
For arts stories you won't read anywhere else, come to KQED's Arts and Culture desk.