As I'm writing this, my phone has beeped a few times. I see a blue flash beckoning me to answer it. At first I look up, go to my phone and see who is trying to get hold of me. I've been tagged in a photo on Facebook, I'm getting messages on a group on WhatsApp. I'm letting things that don't need my urgent attention distract me. You'd swear it was Pavlovian, your phone makes a sound and you immediately look down.
If an alien race had to descend on this planet, they could easily assume that we are inextricably linked to our phones, that we are one and the same organism. We constantly need to be kept up to date, intravenously feeding our minds with new information. We live our lives immersed scrolling through photos of acquaintances, celebrities and other people's experiences.
In 2010, Eric Schmidt the then CEO of Google was quoted as saying, that humanity was creating as much information from the dawn of civilisation up until 2003 every two days. This data was largely composed of user generated content- instant messages, pictures, posts all contributing to this. A monstrous source of shareable content feeding our need for distraction.
Jonathan Safran Foer recently wrote an article "Technology Is Diminishing Us". He explains that the more distracted we become the more we place emphasis on speed, at the expense of depth. We "byte size" important information into bits that can be easily consumed and shared. What would normally appear beautifully described in the pages of a novel becomes diluted to a line of words and emoticons on a phone's screen. He worries that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.
We tend to browse Facebook or Instagram, robbing ourselves of being present in the moment, sitting with no music, no TV and no phone.
Instead of living life, we are experiencing it through selfies and filtered photos; making the time we have less present, intimate and rich. We are instantly contactable to others but ironically absent to ourselves. When we have an empty gap of time to fill, we tend to browse Facebook or Instagram, robbing ourselves of being present in the moment, sitting with no music, no TV and no phone.
It's nearly the end of January, everyone talks about coming back from holiday and being back in the swing of things, that we have hit the ground running. I ask myself where are we running to, and what we are running away from? I was on the treadmill with my oversized phone strapped to my arm listening to music. My phone began to ring; and as I was about to answer, I realised that just because I'm instantly contactable doesn't necessarily mean that I can be fully present on a call at every moment, nor that I should be.
The "i" in the iPhone originated from advertising veteran Ken Segall, he intended the "i" not just to suggest "Internet" but a host of other i-words: "It also meant individual, that the iPhone was an extension of who we are as people. By that logic, we should learn to switch off.
In this age of distraction where our phones have become ultimate companions, we need to start using the off button so we can be present in the moment not just for ourselves but so that we can be ultimate companions to others, sharing experiences rich in texture not diluted with emoticons.