For nearly 50 years I lived comfortably without a mobile phone. I could go out to eat without needing to check constantly on social media, see whether I’d received a text, or take a photo of my food and post it somewhere immediately. Now I seem to be as addicted to my handheld device as a heroin addict is to his daily fix.
I check my email first thing in the morning, check it routinely throughout the day, and typically do so again the last thing before I head upstairs for bed at night. I am in a business where client service is crucially important and I want to be promptly responsive to any messages from those clients — but I know that is, in part, just a rationalization. If I check my phone for email, I can get back to my clients in impressive time and always will seem to be in touch — but I’ll also see whether any other messages are waiting for me.
Why is this so? I think it’s driven in part by ego and in part by the natural curiosity of the human brain. We want to know if people are responding to us or thinking of us, and we are easily bored. Rather than just take a walk down the street, why not check in on Facebook, too? I suppose there’s no significant harm in missing the simple pleasures of a walk that you’ve taken many times — only to get another message that you’ve been invited to play some unknown Facebook game — but when referring to your handheld begins to interfere with actually living your life it seems like it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing.
I thought of this increasingly during our trip to New Orleans, when I encountered people who seemed to be focused on tapping things into their handheld to the exclusion of everything else — even if it meant stumbling into people on the street because they weren’t paying attention to where they were going. The point was driven home when Richard, Russell, UJ and I were sitting on the second story balcony of a place on Frenchmen Street, enjoying a beer and the view, and we noticed a group of 10 or so young women who appeared to be part of a wedding party at the next table over. Virtually all of them had their eyes locked on their phones and their thumbs flying. They weren’t really in New Orleans, they were in cyberworld — so why physically be in New Orleans in the first place?
It was sad, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not much better. I like blogging and feeling like I’m connected, but I need to make sure that I’ve worked out an appropriate balance between the real world and the virtual one.