Wissot: Being glued to your smartphone isn’t very smart
Hey! Look up and fly right. I feel like saying that whenever a person staring at their smartphone narrowly misses bumping into me on the sidewalk. It’s not that I’m afraid of getting hurt. Unlike driving and texting, walking while under the influence of your phone rarely results in bodily pedestrian harm. And in the few instances that it might, the victim is invariably the phone holder.
I’m really not a Luddite railing against technology. I don’t pine for the days of rotary dial or handheld phones the size of shoes. I love my iPhone. I understand the tremendous temptation it is to look at our phones every nanosecond. I do it without realizing it. It’s almost reflexive. I’m sitting at the car wash or waiting in a doctor’s office and out pops my phone.
My phone addiction is multiplied tenfold by the generations who grew up with a smartphone in their cribs. Time magazine reports, “According to one study, half of Gen Z is online 10 hours a day; they admit to suffering from widespread anxiety and mental health issues.”
My problem with treating your smartphone like an appendage, a part of your physical being, is that the inordinate amount of time we spend fixated on our phones is time that could be spent interacting with the strangers we randomly encounter.
Why might you ask would I want to spend time with people I don’t know rather than texting a dear friend I’ve known all my life? The answer is because you know your dear friend quite well and don’t know a stranger at all. There is more to learn from a person you’ve never met before than from someone who is like a book you’ve read several times.
The invention of mobile technology has only accelerated the sense of social alienation many of us experience on a daily basis. There is nothing more disturbing to me than observing a couple spending time on their phones rather than with each other while seated at a restaurant. Most of us would find it rude if a guest brought a book to read at a dinner party we were hosting. But in our tech-saturated society, it is not unusual to see friends and family members ignore each other in public settings as if they never met.
My wife Alyn and I have adopted the habit of sitting at the bar rather than at a table when we have dinner at a restaurant. We did it so I could watch sports on the televisions.
Obviously, that was no better from a dinner conversation point of view than romancing your phone. But now it is because we invariably strike up a conversation with strangers seated near to us. We have met some of the most intriguing people that way. It is a far more enriching experience than checking text messages or glancing at Facebook photos.
One of the reasons we enjoy vacations so much is the opportunity to give our mobile devices arest and focus on the people we meet and the places we visit. Years ago in San Sebastián, Spain I struggled to communicate in my pitiful Spanish with a really fascinating man in one of the many tapas bars lining the city’s streets. Seeing my frustration in trying to make myself understood, he held up his hand and said, “Why don’t you buy a dictionary and then come back to talk with me.” It was a great piece of advice.
Acknowledging each other’s existence is a very human gift strangers can give to one another. I make it a point when I hear a passerby say “How ya doing?” to reply, “Good, how about you?” It may seem like nothing more than gratuitous politeness, but it isn’t. It’s an instant recognition of the fact that although we will probably never meet again I wish you well.
The problem with technology is not technology. It’s us. Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram aren’t forcing us to act like homing pigeons in constantly returning to their platforms.
We don’t need to be at the mercy of our smartphones. We bought them. We paid for them. They don’t own us. We own them. We can shut the damn phones off. Can’t we?
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.