Smartphones: The Rules of Engagement

posted in: Tips 0
Who needs a lecture about the (fascinating) East India Company? Photo: Wikipedia
Who needs a lecture about the (fascinating) East India Company? Photo: Wikipedia

One of the more maddening conversations (or is it proclamations?) that I hear these days are among parents lamenting how their kids are always tied to their phones and video games computers and tablets, how social media sucks up all their attention. Stop buying them these devices, then. They get them because parents buy them for the kids. A parent may protest, saying that life is impossible without these tools, that their kids will be hopelessly lame and isolated from their peers without them. A fair argument; now, parents leave those kids alone.*

As it pertains to my life, however, I abide by one simple rule: I only use my smartphone for entertainment or time-passing if what I’m surrounded by is — without a shadow of a doubt — less interesting that what’s on my phone.

Usually, this means that don’t use it that much when I’m out and about. I do check email, I do respond to texts and things; if I’m getting navigation information, of course I use my phone because it’s made of magic. I’m talking about sitting in a coffee shop and burying my head in the thing, or being in an airport and never once looking up because I’m scrolling through Facebook. In a coffee shop, in an airport, in a hotel lobby and other places like these, I’m confident that what I’ll observe around me is more thought-provoking than playing Candy Crush.* Look at that: the woman eating her breakfast alone. The couple arguing under their breath over by the window. The beautiful chandelier. The bellman who is past retirement age but still working as a bellman. What is the world made of? What is American culture? Someone designed and built this building, someone is about to lose their job today, someone is having sex somewhere, right now, in this hotel! Observing the world leads to wondering how we interact. There’s so much to see absolutely everywhere.

Now, consider an empty doctor’s office with a table of magazines offering Newsweek, Golf Digest, and Men’s Health. I might peruse Newsweek for the 6.1 seconds it takes to go through the entire thing nowadays, but after that, it’s Phone City for me. There’s very little to take in in that situation; anything that might be worth it, I’ve already seen. I feel the same way about standing in a vestibule waiting to be picked up. Looking at Instagram seems appropriate there: pictures of quilts and Madonna’s latest selfie are way, way more interesting than staring at a vase of fake pussy willows.

As always, giving advice feels wrong, but a floating a friendly thought for consideration seems okay: consider the bird, not the tweet.

*I’ve never played Candy Crush, so I could be wrong about this, but I’m gonna roll those dice.

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