Everyone says that technology is great. We can do so much more! I can catch up with old friends! I’m alerted immediately to everything that happens so I never miss out! Look at this photo of my best friends sisters cousins dog in Indonesia drinking a milkshake!
My contrarian truth for 2017 is that technology, or at least the current advances to instantaneous always connected communication, has ruined my life. I don’t mean that as some sort of hyperbole, I literally mean it has detrimentally affected the quality of life that I have every day.
It has bred obsession on a scale unimaginable before smartphones. At no time in human history have we been more connected to everyone around but at no point have we been more detached. Meetings and conversations have been replaced by likes and retweets and form the social currency which affords us happiness.
I’m expected to answer email all the time, calls whenever they arrive, friends when they WhatsApp me, colleagues, when they LinkedIn me, acquaintances when they tweet me. I’m constantly overwhelmed by the barrage of communication I’d become an outcast from if I ignored it.
Only I wouldn’t but we all have fear of missing out.
We change and grow older and drift apart. We view our friends’ lives through the prism of our smartphones like strangers through the living room window. Instead of the occasional catch-up, we neglect it in favor of spending more time behind the seductive allure of the false world portrayed on social networks. We know what they are doing so why bother catching up? Technology has destroyed the human desire for contact and exchange. It had eroded our humanity making us consumers of the data people provide instead of enjoying the rich tapestry of experiential living and community.
We see all the good parts of people’s lives and none of the bad. It gives us unrealistic expectations of what our own life should be like so we try to compete. We paint a more vibrant picture than the reality we experience until that world comes crashing down and nobody expects it. Our friends have gone because they assume that our lives are perfect. Instead of talking to people we detach ourselves in the digital world and build characters to play the parts we want other people to see. Instead of living we play the role of ourselves in the movies of our lives and act through experiences instead of treasuring each moment.
I stood at my daughter Christmas concert today overwhelmed with happiness as I watched her sing her heart out to all the Christmas carols. The song finished and my gaze diverted momentarily between songs to the other parents, all-consuming the content of what’s happening right in front of their faces through the filter of their phones. My heart broke. Do our kids recognize our faces without a smartphone in front of it?
I’m not judging, I do it as well — frequently. I become more preoccupied with a world that doesn’t exist than paying attention to the two most important things in my life. And I know I do it, yet I still can’t stop. Why is it so hard to break away from a virtual reality we know is disingenuous and which saps our happiness?
I stopped drinking alcohol for the whole of 2016, I doubt I could give up my phone for a day, let alone a week. What did we do before we checked our phones 130 times a day? I check my phone out of boredom. I always want something to be happening, if it’s not I get restless and jumpy. If nothing happening I wonder what’s wrong so we create something to fill our attention. We engineer situations to entertain ourselves instead of taking joy in the life we have,
Smartphones are a terrible habit and cancer. We are addicted and they cause as much harm as many illicit substances. In many ways, we are even less in the moment when on our phones than we would be if on something. We aren’t even present; if your attention isn’t focused on your reality are you conscious? Countless times I’ve spoken to someone or been spoken to and responded without paying any attention to the outcome.
And my daughter does it to me. Recently I caught my daughter doing something incredible but heart-breaking. She was banging her drum louder and louder until my attention was both captured and ensured. Having won my attention, smiling back at me, she continued to play and sing in the same manner with her captive audience of one.
As I sat enjoying the moment it immediately filled me with guilt and made me question how many times she’d done so previously but didn’t have something as attention-grabbing as a beating drum to wrestle my attention away from the ever more seductive world behind the dark screen. How much had I already missed and would I one day look at my daughter through the screen on my phone despairing at all the years missed by being engrossed in the frivolous nonsense that filled my inbox or news feed?
I’ve had enough. I can’t continue to function like this with all my relationships suffering because my focus is continually diverted or elsewhere. I’m genuinely scared of what this means for the quality of upbringing our children’s generation receive. Helicopter parents get a bad rap, what about Instagram parents whose only concern is to record their lives for the benefit of their show?
For 2017 I’m giving up my smartphone. The beauty of it? I will still be as connected but it will be a conscious choice to connect if I want to. I’ll stop mindlessly drifting to facebook or scrolling twitter instead I’ll talk to the people I’m with, which I realize is a profound step. The people who want to talk to me will call or text, I’ll reach out to the people who matter; I’ll have to.