Number Twenty-Four: Phones and (Un)Social Media

Two weekends ago my wife and I went out to dinner at a local restaurant. We go to this establishment at least a couple times a month, and we frequent it for a variety of reasons — the delicious food, the excellent staff (whom we’ve become friends with in the past six months), and the weekend concerts. We make reservations for 7:00, have some drinks and appetizers, then settle in for a few hours of conversation while we listen to tunes. As parents who have seven kids at home, we covet our biweekly date nights, relishing the alone time that allows us to rejuvenate our relationship and energize ourselves for the weeks to come.

Only, over the course of the evening, we often end up diverting our attention away from each other and shaking our heads over the other patrons and their behavior. What causes our chagrin?

Phones.

Goddamned phones.

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My relationship with phones has been love-hate at best. I’ve never liked talking on the phone to begin with, so the idea of people having full access to me — no matter the time, no matter the place — has always been a turn off. Despite cell phones being widely available for years beforehand, I did not get my first one until 2011, when my life was in flux and I needed to have a way for people to get in touch with me. One of those necessary evils, if you can dig it. That being said, I elected to use a bare-bones phone and rarely gave out my number.


[Ah, the good old days, when saying “hi” to someone meant typing 4-4, pausing, then typing 4-4-4.]

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Back to my date weekend…

The musical act that evening was a duo – one on an acoustic guitar and one on a violin. They played some great cover songs, ranging from Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Patience” to The Beatles’ “Two of Us” (one of my favorites from them, and one that you don’t hear covered very often) to, of all things, an acoustic version of Michael Jackon’s “Beat It,” something that had to be heard to be believed. Despite the room having 20-30 patrons in it, the band was essentially playing for me and my wife because almost no one, and I mean NO ONE, was paying them any attention. Now, don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t be irked if couples and groups were conversing amongst each other, enjoying their dinner and drinks, and hearing the music as it played in the background. But no, that wasn’t the case on that fine evening.

A couple that looked to be on a first date sat down in front of us. The guy was trying his best to engage the woman, watch the band, and order from the menu, but the woman couldn’t be bothered to get off her phone all…night…long. Facebook appeared to be the main culprit, followed by texting other people, all while completely ignoring the person she was with. 30-45 minutes later six more people joined these two, during which the woman in question continued looking at her phone all night, and was joined in antisocial camaraderie by a few others from her table. There was almost no interaction among the eight people at the table. No acknowledgement of the band in between songs. Just a big black hole in front of the stage, taking and not giving, sucking the energy from the room.

Another woman was sitting by herself off to the side, face glued to the phone, not even setting it aside while she ate. She appeared to be taking pictures and video of the performance, so she may have been a friend of the band, but there were also times she was on social media as well as perusing her text messages.


[“If I stole his phone and put it on Vibrate Mode, maybe I could still get some action tonight?”]

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In December 2014 I finally caved in and joined the new millennium by purchasing an iPhone. I told my wife that it was likely a waste of money because I hate phones and, while I may use it to take pictures of our newborn baby girl, it will largely go unused as I continue to screen phone calls and text only a handful of people. But, like every other lemming of the Modern Age, I eventually downloaded numerous apps. Most of mine were reading apps – iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Comixology, etc. – but I also added Facebook and Messenger. While I have steadfastly refused to join social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, I’ve used Facebook over the years to both stay in touch with family as well as capture news about various authors and publishers I follow. My usage was very, very light – I didn’t post many status updates or pictures – so I wasn’t too worried about it.

But a funny thing happened along the way. I found myself sneaking peeks at Facebook more and more often: standing in line at the grocery store, sitting on the couch while the kids played, lying in bed at the end of the day. It’d be one thing if I was finding something of value out there, but that was not the case. Instead, I was robotically scrolling down, down, down, not really doing anything but killing time. Upon realizing this behavior, I made a concerted effort to stop using the site so blindly, going so far as to delete the app from my phone and at times inactivating my account. In fact, prior to creating this blog in January 2017, I had been on a six-month hiatus from almost all online activities.

And folks, I gotta tell you, it was *wonderful*.

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This past weekend I took a couple of my kids to see a movie. While theaters have generally become a cesspool of poor behavior these days, I was pleasantly surprised to see only one or two cell phones come out during the showing. That being said, I was seeing “Sing,” a movie directed at little kids, thus lessening the number of phone-carrying attendees. But go to a PG-13 movie, full of addled teenagers as well as adults who should know better? The entire effing room is lit up with people on their phones, surfing the web, sending texts, scrolling “news” on social media, and, Heaven help me, occasionally taking phone calls in hushed tones. How far have we fallen as a people when folks can’t disconnect for 90 fucking minutes to watch a movie uninterrupted?!


[Like, oh my God, Ashley. I’m in this room, and there’s, like, a wall, and they put a movie on it. I know, right? Who wants to watch a movie on a wall? Like, I could totally do that on my phone, like, if I wasn’t talking to you.]

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Have I ever pulled out my phone in a movie theater? Yes, but only to make sure the damned ringer was off. Everything else can wait; if not, I should have stayed home and worshiped my Apple deity instead.

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I get disgusted by adults who are unable and/or unwilling to be separated from their devices, but I’m downright scared for our children. I’ve come to learn a new variation on an old saying in recent years: “Hell hath no fury like a child with no wi-fi access.” I have experience with it in our own home, when either the power goes out or I have to cycle the modem and router for 10 minutes. My wife and I take bets on which child will come barreling up the stairs first, or which child will unleash a hellish roar when their connection gets dumped in the middle of a scintillating vine compilation.

[Shocking that Generation A.D.D. can’t focus on anything after watching shit like this, isn’t it?]

Pay attention to groups of young people when you’re out and about (assuming you can find any). While they exhibit many of the same behaviors as their elders, they take it to the next level by…wait for it…waaaaaait for it…texting people they’re sitting right next to! Honest to God, they’re so conditioned to message each other with the myriad options at their disposal that they’ll have entire emoji-filled conversations on a screen instead of pocketing the phones and, oh, I don’t know, TALKING!

Ever see the Pixar movie, Wall-E? Almost a decade later it seems incredibly prescient to me.

 

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Am I guilty of losing my shit if I can’t get an Internet connection? Yes and no. As someone who works from home, I need a connection to the outside world if I’m going to get anything done. But in other situations? Absolutely not. When I have time to be away from my laptop, I’d much rather be reading a book, taking a walk with my wife, or going to the park with my kids. In fact, I’ll take it one step further and say that if I could somehow get the cat back in the bag, I’d give up my damned cell phone. My wife thinks I’m too attached to be without it, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that I’d happily be rid of the ball-and-chain if I could (the phone, not the wife).


[Before we get started…the safe word is “Siri.”]

Before my co-workers call “shenanigans,” I’ll admit to being one desk over from someone and sending them an instant message instead of going to their cube for a face-to-face conversation, but the reason for that is twofold: first, sometimes I need a record of what I’m saying so that I can look back at it later, and second, there are times I can hear a co-worker is busy with something else, so I send a message as a placeholder to get in their queue.

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I find it sad that we have become so focused on our gadgets and our place in the social pantheon that we lose sight of what’s sitting right in front of us. I’m sure that sounds incredibly hypocritical of someone who has just written a couple thousand words for a blog entry that will later be posted to Facebook. Perhaps it is. No, it definitely is. But I wrote long before this blog came to fruition, and I will write whether or not I keep it going in the future. A couple of people in my life have both enjoyed my writing and encouraged me to share it, so you have them to thank for my online presence. Also, 95% of my gadget-writing is done in the middle of the night when my little kids wake me up and I can’t get back to sleep. I told my wife that this project will never get in the way of our day-to-day life, nor will it ever be more important than my family, job, or other activities.

In the end, I guess I’m encouraging moderation. Or maybe it’s that I’d like to see people living in the moment. There’s certainly nothing wrong with dicking around on a device. But for the love of the Lord, when there’s an opportunity to put the thing aside, then do it. If you’re at a concert, *watch* the concert and listen to the music. Don’t be one of those douche bags who holds up his tablet and films the whole thing, watching it via a screen (and, more than likely, never watching the video of the concert down the road anyway). With the exception of a picture here and there, don’t miss out on the beauty of a landscape or the architectural wonders of a structure. Memory and experience will always be more vivid than a faded photograph (let alone the cache of jpegs that are lost when you drop your phone in the toilet during your next bowel movement). And never, ever, EVER miss out on a chance to spend time with family or friends to keep up with the Kardashians; ain’t no one who’s been on their deathbed and wished they could have seen one more tweet of Kim’s ass anyway.


[It’s almost too easy.]

Until we meet again…

Andy

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