Put your smartphone away, you’re missing the entire history of you
No, you’re not that important or busy. Put your smartphone away and pay more attention to the world around you.
Better yet, leave your smartphone over there, where you can’t get to it for a few hours.
Now breathe deep and try not to panic. The world (probably) isn’t going to end while you’re deprived of your mobile pacifier. That’s what a lot of us are thinking, but we’re too heads down in our smartphones to tell each other that.
The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, somehow none of these dystopian sci-fi parables have prepared us for a techno-centric world in which the shuffling, oblivious zombies are us. In 2016, a report in the Wall Street Journal cited stats from the Consumer Product Safety Commission indicating that emergency room visits by distracted pedestrians using mobile phones were up 124 percent from 2014. The same report claimed that such accidents have increased 10-fold from 2006. Let there be no doubt, although we’re increasingly aware of our distracted driving problems, we also have a serious distracted walking problem.
I noticed it myself when I returned to the U.S. and stepped through the doors of Mashable for the first time at our former 23rd street office in 2013. I was waiting for the elevator and when it arrived, a crowd of people emerged, all walking out while looking down at their smartphone screens. I was almost knocked over because not a single person looked up from their smartphone as they walked out of the lobby.
Our new habit of texting and reading smartphones while walking has us strolling into traffic and literally walking off piers.
It’s this same fairly new habit of texting and reading smartphones while walking that has people casually strolling into traffic at intersections, walking off piers (yes, really), and making a simple walk down the sidewalk in major cities a human obstacle course. And if you don’t successfully navigate this maze of screen-obsessed walkers — the tacit message being, “Get outta my way, you SEE me texting” — you risk everything from being pummeled by an angry pedestrian to earning a $50 ticket in some cities if you happen to be the offending smartphone drone.
Some rare locations have resorted to establishing special texting zones for the those who refuse to stop texting while walking, and some schools are testing app-specific connectivity bans to reduce student usage while on campus. But the vast majority of the smartphone-using world continues to amble forward, smartphone in hand, pretending as if this is all just a normal part of evolving with our tech culture. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s another, far simpler answer to all this: stop pretending you’re not addicted and begin to wean yourself off the mobile pacifier.
When you’re waiting for a friend, riding in an elevator with strangers, or sitting at a lunch table waiting for your date to return from the restroom, no, you don’t have to check your damn smartphone. Have. Some. Chill.
I’m guilty of all the aforementioned crimes against digital etiquette and I’ve been trying to do better. To that end, I’ve recently started using an iOS app called Moment. The app does one simple thing, it tracks the amount of time you spend on your smartphone (including how many times you pick it up). This might sound like a superfluous use of your app screen space, but it turns out it’s an incredibly powerful tool.
I had no idea, bit by bit, furtive glance by glance, just how long I spend staring at my smartphone screen every day. In short order, I found that on a busy Monday, I spend over four hours looking at my smartphone screen in one way or another, and on my strictest I-will-try-hard-not-to-look-at-my-smartphone days I still spend at least an hour looking at my tiny screen (in additional to my laptop screen). Adding all that time up, that means over the course of a year I’ll spend roughly 15 days staring into that tiny piece of glass.
Sure, during that time I’m texting friends, reading news, and finding out what’s happening around the world. But it’s all being sent through a small glass panel. While these minutes and hours melt away I’m not hearing the voices of my friends, looking into the faces of real people around me, or touching, holding, and engaging the non-digital things around me.
So far, I’ve only seen one dystopian vision that comes close to shoving a mirror in front of us and forcing us to face our current tech culture reality: Black Mirror and its “The Entire History of You” episode. In it, people with eye-mounted cameras constantly record and playback events from the distant and recent past, so much so that it becomes common to sit silently in the same room without saying a word to each other as everyone quietly reviews footage from the eye cameras. (Sound familiar?) It’s science fiction, but it looks a lot like what I’m seeing in our culture today. We’re not that bad yet, but we’re getting there, fast.
Apps are amazing. They’re part of why you’re here — to learn about the best and newest mobile apps. But while you’re here, let us also remind you that it’s ok to unplug and take a moment, figuratively and literally (if you’re on Android, the Quality Time app is a good option), to look away from the black mirror in your pocket and look up. There’s a lot you’re missing.