I’ve always known this day would arrive. But it lay too far off in the future to worry about.
I sat safely atop my own personal promontory, even as the tide surged forward to swallow lesser souls who tested the waters and were lost.
But you can’t stop a tsunami. The Day of Reckoning is at hand. And even if I can hold out a little longer, after all these years of holding out now I feel like I’m selling out. It’s hard to even articulate the words.
Still… here it goes. It may finally be time to get a cellphone.
I know what you’re thinking; I hear it all the time: “How do you live without a cellphone?”
Let me be clear: I don’t want one. I relish my time alone and can’t imagine the intrusive buzzing or beeping or strains of the Bee Gees interrupting my solitude or, even worse, invading the personal space of friends and strangers alike.
A book is adequate entertainment for the doctor’s waiting room; I carry phone numbers on a little notebook in my breast pocket; and I take a real paper-and-ink shopping list to the grocery store.
But life moves on, and the virtual world is closing in. The demands of work may soon become irresistible. Will I take the blue pill or the red pill? Do I even have a choice?
Complaints about our cellphone culture are legion, worn out, and largely ignored. But they are also true.
As a society, we grow increasingly rude, increasingly impatient, and increasingly detached from one another despite the illusion of increased connectedness.
We are distracted at work, in school, in church or in synagogue, and in our cars. Vowels are an endangered species, punctuation is irrelevant, and we couldn’t care less.
But there’s something much more insidious about the cellphone culture. Collectively, we’re forgetting how to think.
Babble and bombast are all around us. Otherwise bright people can’t follow a simple syllogism without turning off onto tangents or exiting into irrelevancies.
They don’t care if an argument refutes their opinions because their phone screens are awash in opinions that have no purchase in fact or reason.
We hear it on the news, which has devolved into infotainment. We hear it from our politicians, who seem to have abandoned even the pretense of honesty while embracing the virtual world of fantasy and fiction.
Worst of all, I see it in children, whose once eager minds have become lobotomized by the endless stream of pseudo-information and imagery that assaults their senses. Fewer and fewer of them ask questions, or even have questions. Curiosity is almost extinct.
After all, why know anything when all knowledge is a click away?
More and more, students don’t even care if they fail, as if some cosmic reset button will let them start the Game of Life all over again. Incredibly, often their parents don’t care either.
And most disturbing of all is the near extinction of self-reflection and introspection.
In a world that has become increasingly two-dimensional, is it any wonder that people are increasingly superficial themselves?
With information measured in soundbites, with news stories reduced to headlines, with presidential debates rendered in rehearsed quips and party slogans, our children are growing up on a diet of intellectual and emotional junk food that leaves their minds and their souls withering from malnutrition.
How ironic to long for the days when the great evil in the world was network television. With a mere handful of channels to watch, often a book was the only attractive option for an evening’s entertainment. No texting, no videogames, no Netflix or Hulu or YouTube. And no TiVo!
You had to schedule your time around your favorite show, and if you wanted to watch two shows scheduled simultaneously… too bad! Wait for rerun season in the spring, when you might get one second chance.
How bizarre to long for the days of only snail mail. Writing a letter took thought and effort, and then days before it would arrive.
But readers of a certain age will remember a child’s anticipation of mail-call at summer camp, and the excitement of getting a letter from home.
Then there was the tingle of courtship by post, the hundred visions and revisions, the flutter of the heart when sealing a letter to be sent, or of unsealing it on the receiving end.
The banality of texting is a greater tragedy than its intrusiveness and the corresponding pox of impatience.
Human dialogue has been emasculated into an Orwellian Newspeak that has no purpose other than utilitarian exchange of mundane factoids. The art of conversation, the exchange of ideas, the sifting of thoughts and musings for jewels of wisdom, the opening of minds to new vistas and outlooks, the opening of heart and soul of one to another… these are all relics of a bygone era that was still the norm half a generation ago.
So what will happen when I finally get my own Pandora’s box? Will I get sucked into the black hole of cerebral oblivion like all those who have gone before? Will I be able to make the phone my servant instead of finding myself enslaved by yet another machine?
I shudder to find out. But here are a three strategies that might benefit us all.
1. Turn it off.
When you can’t — or don’t need to — answer your phone, use the off button. That’s what it’s there for.
Even on vibrate, the constant reminder of connectedness disconnects us from whatever should be occupying our attention.
At dinner, in a meeting, at the symphony, in synagogue or church, having a conversation with someone whose time you value… why do we want to be distracted by those ubiquitous alerts?
And what are we telling others about how they rank on our scale of priorities when we keep checking our screens to see if something is “important”?
2. Leave it behind.
Go for a walk. Read a book in the park. Make a date for lunch or dinner. And when you do, leave the phone at home or in the car.
A dog on a leash needs to know it’s master. A human being is a different story. And the worst part of letting our phones enslave us is that we indulge the illusion that we’re still free and in control of our lives.
It will be painful at first. Everything worthwhile is, before we discover how liberating it can be.
3. Only use it when you need it.
Okay, there’s a time and place for everything… even videogames.
But the reflexive need to occupy ourselves with needless texting and addictive distractions is what keeps us from pondering what life is really all about, and from valuing the time we have as too precious to be squandered on trivialities.
I know. It sounds radical. Or, to be accurate, reactionary. The Luddites may have been right to fear the collateral damage of technology; but technology advances almost with a will of its own.
All we can do is prepare ourselves to meet the future when it arrives.
Of course, that will be little consolation when we all find ourselves living in The Matrix.