Some things you already know, but forget to think about

by Lorenzo Piccoli

Yesterday evening I came home from the cinema and I realized I was not able to have a conversation with Dani because I was too hooked up by the messages and the updates on my phone. It was just as if I wasn’t there.

I have a relatively balanced relation with my phone, I believe. I check it sporadically, it is always on silent mode, and I never stare at it for more than a minute or so. And yet, there are moments I realize I am switching off the brain because of my phone. “As smoking gives us something to do with our hands when we aren’t using them, Time gives us something to do with our minds when we aren’t thinking,” Dwight Macdonald wrote in 1957. Smartphones have the same effect: they keep our hands busy and they make us mindless. This is also the beginning of the article I want to share with you in this post. You are all intelligent people, otherwise you would not be reading my blog*, and so you know already that compulsive use of your smartphones makes you anxious and incapable of experiencing empathy. So it is not that you need to read another article on  how excessive use of your smartphones degrades you life quality because you already know: it is bad. Yet, it is just good to be reminded of how bad it is. There are interesting data, too. Think of this: on average, people check their phones 221 times a day— once every 4.3 minutes. In a 2015 Pew survey, 50% of the teenagers interviewed said they used their phones to “avoid others around you.” Which is exactly what I do when I check the phone on the metro, on the queue, or while I wait for my date or my friends in front of a cinema, theatre, or whatever other circumstance you can think of.

The article reviews a book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, that starts with a psychological argument. The author of the book, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, finds the roots of the problem in the failure of young people absorbed in their devices to develop fully independent selves. Phones and texting disrupt the ability to separate from one’s parents, and raise all the kind of other obstacles to adulthood. The book, it seems to me by reading the article only and not the manuscript itself, celebrates the value of occasional solitude and makes all the kind of references to Thoreau – oh yes, baby, another recurring topic on my blog, that’s right.

At the same time, the article is also a useful reminder of how quickly our society has become hyper-connected. The first touchscreen-operated iPhones went on sale in June 2007 an today already, as the article says “not carrying a smartphone indicates eccentricity, social marginalization, or old age“. It still happens to me to be asked for the phone number of my mum by her colleagues. Their disbelief when I explain she does not have a phone is – how can I say –  palpable. They simply do not believe me. Maybe next time I can tell them it is an old, eccentric, marginalized mum I have. But that’s not true: I never told her in person, but because this blog is a way for me never to be separated from my mum (err), I can use it to tell her that one of the reasons why she’s cool is precisely she doesn’t have a smartphone.

Also – avoiding all this texting she will probably escape the three most extreme consequences of the digital hyper-connection the articles talks about. These are narcissism, disinhibition, and the failure to care about the feelings of others. Which is a funny coincidence, now that I think of it, because these are also the three most recurring definition of this blog coming from my inner circle of friends. Oh, wait a minute …


* these are the kind of bad jokes that used to piss Stefania off – big time. And I think it was so because she knows that down in the bottom of my heart I really believe this to be true.