When did we stop paying attention to the world around us?
A teenager cruises through an intersection on a bike, one hand on the handlebars, eyes focused only on the cell phone in his other hand. An office worker charges off an elevator and into a tray of hot coffee, her eyes never lifting from the tiny screen. A distracted businessman steps onto the crosswalk on a red light and a car with the right-of-way narrowly misses him.
I’m not surprised, but I am bewildered. When did our handhelds become the main focus of our lives?
Nobody can doubt or discount how beneficial our mobile devices have become to society. We have access to information, essentially, wherever we are. We can communicate, share photos of our pets and partners, seek advice, and get directions to wherever we are going. We can shop, do our banking, and we can be entertained by social media.
It is wonderful, yes.
The thing is, we are forgoing what used to be considered regular, everyday, activities and allowing our cellular phones dictate what we do, and how we do it.
We are, quite simply, spending too much time staring at our screens. I did say we because, I know, I am doing it myself.
I’m trying to cut back. I should have snapped a photo of the careless teen, but my phone was stowed away in my messenger bag; I’m making a point of putting it away when I don’t need it. I decided I was needing it too much.
I’ve sat down for lunch with coworkers and instead of talking about weekend plans, politics, sports or art, each of us was catching up on whatever was on our phone. We didn’t share what we were absorbing. We even tried to converse between bites of a sandwich or salad, but the content of our discussion was about as meaningful as most of the stuff I was catching on my newsfeed.
Do we need to take frequent breaks from real life to watch the latest nonsensical soundbite emanating from the floppy jowls of the reality television performer we call now President of the USA? Or do we need to read, right now, the ramblings of an ordinary guy who believes we all spend too much time gazing at hand-sized screens?
Couldn’t it wait until later? Like maybe when you sit down for your next bowel movement?
We are missing out on what’s really happening. I have seen people miss transit stops, or walk by an intended destination, because they were too busy reading or watching something that has totally taken control of their mind.
What’s so important that you can’t take the time to walk down the street and actually look up to see the latest fashions in the windows, flowers in the park, the artwork of a fabulous tattoo, or all those smiling strangers (those who aren’t face down and blindly stepping forward) passing you by on a glorious summer day.
We haven’t simply become addicted to our devices; we are being controlled by them.
We’ve been manipulated into watching content and commercialism that algorithms have determined will be of personal interest. All social media platforms are programmed to distract you. Service providers, browsers, and platforms, are all collecting data. If you click on a travel site one day, soon you are flooded with offers, suggestions, and other destination opportunities. If you do a little online banking on your coffee break, and you’ll soon get hit with credit card offers, payday loan proposals and interest rate alerts from other financial services.
It does not stop. Each click, each time you move from site to site, little bytes of information about you and your viewing habits are being collected. We are being manipulated into looking, seeing, and buying. Our reality is being hijacked.
What are you missing out on?
p.s. This ordinary guy thanks you for reading my ramblings – I do appreciate you taking the time.