Yesterday, I walked into a pole.
Don’t laugh. It hurt. I was walking down the street, focusing on an email that I absolutely needed to finish, at that very moment, or the world would come to a violent end, when I walked into a pole. Now I have a bump on my head.
In reality, the email could have totally waited. Not only wasn’t it urgent, but as I write, I can’t even remember to whom, or about what, it was.
How many of us complain about someone walking into us, delaying us on the stairs or almost killing us because they have their noses in their Galaxies or iPhones, instead of where they are headed, ONLY to do the same fucking thing ourselves? (I’d mention Blackberry, but at this point, Darwinism will get those people one way or another anyway.)
My own hypocrisy is clear, because, as I have said above, I walked into a pole today.
However, pedestrian logjam is the least of the issues connected to our collective addiction to personal digital devices. Looking through the world only through the lenses of the cameras on our smartphones is taking a much larger toll than the backup at the crosswalk.
There is little “pure enjoyment” anymore. At concerts, museums, zoos, beaches, graduations, parties and almost every major life event one can imagine, a significant number of us only see what is on our screens. Either we’re busily checking texts (l8r) and twitter feeds (@eshap), or we’re chronicling every moment of the happening on Instagram.
Forget stopping to smell the roses; who could even smell a rose through an LED screen?
“Who cares?” you say. “If people want to look at the world through their iPhone 5, it’s not like they’re hurting anyone.”
Not true, generic person expressing opinions via the imaginary voice in my head. According to a survey of more than 7,000 millennials, the majority of this generation believe that social media and our collective dependence on technology is “weakening human-to-human bonds” (53 percent); creating a “society that lacks of community and connectedness” (63 percent) and that “today’s youth have no sense of personal privacy” (70 percent). Even worse, Pew found that “42% of Millennials viewed online immersion negatively in that users are developing poor retention skills, lack social skills and are short of deep-thinking capabilities.”
This would all make me sound like Clint Eastwood telling those “damn kids to get off my damn lawn,” except that this is how you damn kids describe yourselves.
“Look, old man,” says you, “there may be some downsides to technology, but think of the upsides! Digital technology makes us more aware, hell, it saves lives.” True dat, you whippersnapper, but increasingly, it’s also endangering lives—and not just your own.
Seventy-five percent of teens say texting and driving is “common” among their friends, according to a survey by AT&T and the National Safety Council, which says that more than 100,000 crashes a year involve drivers who are texting. To put this into context, texting while driving recently surpassed drinking while driving as a cause of teenage vehicular fatalities.
All of this motivated Academy Award Winner and Official Scary Person Werner Herzog to create this epic and haunting short film about texting while driving...
Look, I love my iPhone as much as anyone (except when I have to use it to type anything, when I HATE that m*therf*cking iPhone). It is there with me when I go to sleep and when I wake up. My apps allow me to get news fast, avoid traffic, and even do my job.
But the bump on my head and these startling facts have made me rethink my relationship with my digital appendage. It’s not just the danger of texting while behind the wheel—self-preservation has weaned me from that habit quickly. It’s the growing sense that I am missing out on stuff. That I can’t simply enjoy the shit I’m doing, without somehow also recording it or sharing it, that I can’t just sit and read, or think, without constantly also distracting myself with social media or email, or text, or Ruzzle.
“But what’s a modern citizen of the digital world to do?” you ask. “Work, friends, family, they all depend on me to stay in touch, and if I unplug too much, I might get #FOMO!”
Ah, FOMO. I have that too—but what I fear I’m missing is life itself. I fear that my memories will all be shot glass and silicon chips, and that in my old age (I see that smirk) there’ll be nothing analog for me to look back upon and that my dreams will be of mechanical sheep.
So, you ask, what can we do?
First, put down your iPhone, laptop, iPad, Galaxy or HTC (after you’re done with this article, obviously). Next time you have dinner, leave the smartphone in the car, in your purse, in your pocket or even (gasp) at home. (Believe it or not, mankind did once manage to forage for food without an app or Google Maps).
Second, the next time you find yourself at a concert, or a museum or some other cultural event, just look, simply listen...you don’t HAVE to hit record to enjoy it. Even if you don’t Instagram it, it will still have happened.
Next, take this pledge to NOT TEXT WHILE DRIVING and to GET OTHERS TO DO THE SAME. If you do nothing else, do this. It’s not just your life at stake, it’s the lives of those around you.
Last, no matter where you live, the next time you are walking down the street, just...walk. Maybe even smell some actual (not virtual) roses. There’s a world around you worth looking at, and it’s way more enjoyable without a bump on your noggin.