It’s the ultimate first world problem, the greatest twenty-first century tragedy: being without your smart phone. It’s not so much an inconvenience as a total loss of contact with the world. To be further than touching distance from your emails, more than one google search from every drop in information in the world, and unable to instant message anyone, is a disaster.
As a result, Wifi is everywhere. Cafes and restaurants know that not offering the internet is like not serving the right food or stocking the right drinks. We ignore each other by sitting across the table from one another and staring at our phones. We publish everything we’re doing online as though doing the thing itself is not enough; and record everything we see on camera, as though watching back a blurry video of a concert makes missing the live experience itself worthwhile.
It’s led to several problems. More than an hour away from our phones and we may as well be declared off the grid, but at the same time being ignored for the sake of a phone is often deemed offensive; it has even sparked the idea of smart phone etiquette. Several initiatives have been attempted to put a halt to it. Friends at dinner have started stocking their phones face-down in the middle of the table; the first to touch them has to pay the bill. Pubs can be seen brandishing signs outside the door saying, ‘No we don’t have Wi-Fi! Talk to each other!’ and last week Jennifer Lawrence, star of The Hunger Games, told a reporter: “You can’t live your whole life behind your phone, bro…You gotta live in the now.”
It’s a nice idea. Get off twitter, stay away from Facebook, and live in the now. But it’s not that simple. We’re fighting a losing battle, and it’s human nature, not just technology, that is against us. The romantic idea is that without smart phones we’d all be sat in café’s talking to complete strangers, but that’s simply not the case. Remember newspapers and magazines? They were just as good at distracting us from each other.
Furthermore, we can’t tarnish all smartphone users with the same brush. For many, it is an expectation, professionally as well as socially, to always be in contact. Many jobs mean we have to be ready to look at emails, available to cover shifts. Whereas in our personal lives, if ignorance was once bliss, and no news was once good news, the opposite is now true. To not hear from a loved one, or not get confirmation that they have got home safe, is often worrying. Why have they not text, we ask, because we know they have their phone, we know they can.
So what can we do? The reality is that we’ve gone too far to come back. Certainly too far for this to be a personal decision. Society demands that we have our smart phones switched on. But there are certain decisions we can make. Delete the twitter or Facebook apps from your phone; or even less drastically, turn off notifications, mute the group chats, so you can go to them, not have them come to you. As a whole, our dependence on the smartphone is never likely to go away, but we can help ourselves be able to take a look up once in a while. Like everything, this technology is a gift at our disposable, if we abuse it it’s our own fault.