Standing in the queue for a sandwich at lunch-time, I notice that everyone is looking at their phones. I don’t mean that I just noticed this today – it’s the same every day.
I stand in the queue, looking at people looking at their phones, wondering idly what they used to do before they had smart-phones. Then I wonder what I used to think about before I stood in queues looking at people and wondering about them looking at their phones. Then I usually take out my phone. Of course.
So what pastime has been pushed aside to make space for phone-time? Perhaps in some cases, none at all. Standing in a queue, waiting at a bus-top, sitting on the train. Times that would have been spent staring into space are now spent staring into Facebook. Or scrolling through Twitter or buying groceries or feeling inadequate looking at crafts on Pinterest (maybe that’s just me).
So that’s productive right? We can assume that reading about the latest political something-gate is a better use of time than staring into space?
I suppose it depends on whether the space-staring person was thinking about what to feed the cat, or devising a multi-million-euro making app. The cat will still be fed either way, but perhaps the life-changing app will have fallen by the way-side.
And what about the rest of the time – the minutes here and there that we spend looking at our phones when we should be doing something else?
Sneaky peeks at work if social media sites are blocked by IT, Facebook chats during playtime with the kids (“mummy’s just checking a very important work email”), family get-togethers with six phones on the table beeping and chirping and lighting up as though they too are guests at the dinner.
It’s obvious what we’re missing at those times; conversation, communication, connection with the real world.
But it’s only a problem if it’s out of control; only if the virtual world is taking our attention more than the real world. There’s great value to phone-time too. A lifeline to the outside world for parents at home with small babies. Maternity leave loneliness kept at arm’s length by an electronic porthole close at hand. Late night social media chats over a glass of wine if actual nights out are a distant memory.
So is the world a better place? Are we smarter with our smart-phones? Or are we missing out on pondering important philosophical questions while we’re gazing at our screens?
I don’t know what the universal answer is. For me: I’m trying to stay offline more while my kids are up. And I’ve learned how to browse Twitter while simultaneously deciding what sandwich to order. And I was never going to invent an app anyway, so I think I’m breaking even.