Smaller than a book and more powerful than the computer that landed a rocket on the moon – it’s the one thing no one leaves the house without. Forgot my coffee? I’ll buy some. Forgot my lunch? I can buy that too. Forgot my phone? Turn this bus around, please.
Since the first brick hit the market, our phones have gotten smaller and smaller in the hopes of making our world feel a little smaller too, and while phones have made long distances feel small, they’ve also made small ones much bigger. The same dull blue glow that acts as a portal into the life of a friend who might be on the other side of the city or the other side of the planet is also a barrier between your life and the world that is directly around you.
Snap. Filter. Hashtag. Post. Your other friends are going to love this one. Three likes already, boy oh boy! This steak dinner sure does look good with the colours boosted. Too bad it’s gotten cold. And what about the people around this table, right here and now. Are those three likes more important than the conversation that they’ve been having while you drowned out the world to create the perfect post? They’re all laughing, but you must have missed the joke.
Community and connectivity don’t always go hand in hand. Being constantly connected to the distant parts of the world can isolate you from the world you are living in and self-worth can become reduced to a few meaningless numbers – the number of likes on that picture, the size of your friends list. After seeing someone else’s picture of a tree get 116 likes while your graduation photo only got 12, it can be easy to lose track of the fact that one good friend is worth more than 100 online friends and that the significance of an experience is not defined by the number of likes it gets on social media. Still, even if we know that, there is a part of us that enjoys the satisfaction of a like.
I’m sure the irony of the fact that urban isolation is at least in part caused by the device whose sole purpose is to bring people together is not lost on anyone, but we all remain willing participants in this worsening phenomenon. We can see them all around us. They’re waiting at the bus stop, walking down the street, sitting at the back of class, having coffee with friends, on a date. Zombies. Swiping and scrolling. Not even absorbing the information as it slides from one end of the screen to the other. Looking at their world through a lens and amassing a collection of digital memories as they miss opportunities to make real ones. We’re all guilty of it sometimes.
We live our lives to the beat of our news feeds. Virtual likes and online friends give our lives artificial value, and we fill our heads with hundreds of meaningless stories about the lives of people we don’t even talk to while we miss out on dozens of opportunities to have genuine connections with the people in front of us every day.
While these tiny screens can break down the barrier of distance between us and faraway loved ones, it’s important to recognize that a screen can also be a blindfold. They are powerful tools that can strengthen our communities when used well but can put up walls when used poorly. So, if you’re out in the world while reading this on your phone, do me a favour and put that phone away. Live in the moment, take in the world around you, live your life to a more natural beat, and you might be surprised by what happens next.