I walk into a coffee shop and take my place in line. I look around at the filled queue of fellow coffee addicts and see every single one of them staring down into their palms. All of us have glued to our hands in one shape or another, a smartphone.
All of us are gazing into the glow. Some tapping at its small surface, others swiping up and down and left to right. Some of the members of this line are having a harder go of it than others. Millennials expertly use one hand to hold as well as to swipe and tap, while others are squinting at the tiny screens and using one hand to hold the device and the other to stab at it with an outstretched index finger. I look into my own hand and see that I too am just like the former group, having started to scroll through my own smartphone as if by instinct. When it comes to moving ahead in line, we all expertly shuffle our feet forward inches at a time, not ever lifting our heads to see if any obstructions lie ahead. The only time I or anyone else looks up is when we finally make it to the counter, where we pause our information binges to bark complicated orders at the overworked barista– and then we turn back to our phones and shuffle to another line.
What is it about this little rectangle that is just so darn addicting?
I keep a watchful eye on my phone as it rests on the table as I finish my coffee. Will it ring? I’m sure I heard it ring. Yes, I’m positive it just lit up. Maybe my ringer was off and there really is a message waiting for me, but I just didn’t see it happen. I should check. I reach for the source of my anxiety, slide my finger over the glass to unlock, and am greeted with my girlfriend’s face that serves as my background. I’m filled with disappointment. I click the sleep button and drop my device, feeling defeated.
Why doesn’t anyone want to reach out to me? Am I not interesting enough to call? To text? To be DM’ed on any of my many profiles across the social media landscape? I suddenly feel insecure about my recent posts. I unlock my phone again and begin rethink my whole approach to posting updates about myself on this thing. I need to be more interesting. That’s the problem. Yes, that’s it.
I can’t be away from my phone longer than a few minutes before I rush back to it and unlock its shiny screen, hoping to find a new notification waiting for me. Whether the new pop up is a text, voicemail, or comment on my most recent post, I get a physical thrill when my phone lights up. This can’t be healthy, but I take comfort in the fact that my friends and colleagues all have this same excitement in one way or another.
We normally think of teenage girls being the only ones obsessed with their phones. Updates on what Tammy said about classmate Suzy, and what Danny wrote in his note to Ruth about the update on Tammy’s comments of classmate Suzy. Complicated stuff to be sure. But phones aren’t just for teenage girls anymore. Not far from why teenage girls originally loved the phones to begin with, we too are pretty obsessed with other people’s lives and what other people think about our own.
The smartphone is our little window to the rest of the world. Through it we can watch others and others can watch us. Pretty creepy when we think about it too hard. With only a thin 4 inch in diameter plate of glass between us and an endless sea of information, we keep staring onward into the glow at what new thing we can learn about literally whatever you can think of. Do Penguins have arm pits? What’s the name of my sister’s roommate in Oregon again? Can cats breathe through their mouths?
Whenever I stand in line, I pull it out. Stuck in horrible traffic, I pull it out. I enter into a bathroom stall, I pull it out. Whenever we have downtime, out comes the phone. Sound familiar? It is an instantaneous response we have to downtime: take out the phone and start scrolling.
For me, my phone comes out when I don’t want to think. When my brain has a chance to relax and think about something other than what it should be, I dig into my pocket and pull out my smartphone. I respond to texts that I’ve been ignoring for whatever reason, and then begin my searches for random factoids on anything. Celebrity and family member updates. Articles about politics, global news, dogs that can juggle while barking the alphabet… I’m not looking for anything in particular, really just anything I can use to distract myself from my day and the problems I’m trying to jump over. I use my smart phone as a mobile escape.
So many things I use to distract myself on the brick that frequently occupies my jacket pocket. Most used apps like Twitter for articles, Pinterest for advice, LinkedIn for work, Instagram for my friends, internet browser for random search queries, and of course, the almighty Facebook for updates on everybody I know. The smooth interface of all of these apps make the hours fly by. I should be elbow deep into actually productive things, but it’s so much more fun to research this new guy my cousin in Tucson is dating by studying all of his profiles that stretch across the social media landscape.
Is it our obsession with other people’s lives that keep us glued to our pocket rectangles? Or is it our need to check in on how we rank among the elite of our friends and celeb role models? Through this little window that lives in our palm and vacations in our pockets, we can spend countless hours peering into people’s lives through profiles and posts and any other number of shared updates they have made public.
My smart phone is a part of me. Woven into my life. I know that’s a lot of pressure to place on a 5 oz. brick that I make monthly payments on, but it’s just so darn powerful. It can light up and make my day, or bring me sorrow and self-loathing. This thing holds every detail of my life and then some. I’ve tried going on a hiatus from it, convincing myself that it’s ruining my life and I should cut the evil spawn that it is from my life entirely. It doesn’t serve me much good. It leaves me only to find myself having a Gossling-McAdams style reunion in the rain when I can finally return to the faint glow that fits so elegantly in my palm. I recognize that this may be a problem. They do say the first step to recovery is recognition…