When I was in Paris over the Summer, I noticed something super interesting: no one had a phone. They had phones, yes, but they were absent from social places like restaurants, bars, clubs, and more. The socially imposing phone was happily absent. You don’t see people walking around with earbuds shielding them from everything around them nor did you find a white glow lighting up faces in dark venues. It was refreshing. And weird. But mostly refreshing.
This idea of being “unplugged” seemed to dominate weekend conversation: let’s stop it with our online-ing. Thanks to a New York Times article, we’ve been urged to “stop googling” and talk to each other. The subsequent reaction was, yes, I agree—and I will post this to Facebook. As I saw someone retweet, the ensuing reaction has been cringeworthy haughtiness. The double card carrying polite police are very alive.
Yet, the article is interesting. It’s painful but, as The Awl pointed out months early regarding a similar NYT story, there is some truths and some falses to the story. For example, this “stop googling” passage that is intended to make your ears burn and question if we should have children in this world
We turn time alone into a problem that needs to be solved with technology. Timothy D. Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, led a team that explored our capacity for solitude. People were asked to sit in a chair and think, without a device or a book. They were told that they would have from six to 15 minutes alone and that the only rules were that they had to stay seated and not fall asleep. In one experiment, many student subjects opted to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit alone with their thoughts.
Come on. Really? That is pathetic. It reminds me of this fucking ridiculous story I heard one time from a teen that their circle of friends all have panic attacks and that one has to always listen to music or else she falls victim to crippling anxiety. “Give me a fucking break,” I replied. The unanimous feeling with all these stories is that we’ve lost a sense of self-control. We’re leaning too hard on coping mechanisms instead of our own personhood. When everything is too easy—to play games, to talk to people, to zone out, to order something you want—you lose the sense that you can and should wait. We’re living in the aftermath of the now, now, now world.
Yet, “stop googling” has something important to say. I found this to be important if not totally unique: it’s a very obvious conclusion.
Every technology asks us to confront human values. This is a good thing, because it causes us to reaffirm what they are. If we are now ready to make face-to-face conversation a priority, it is easier to see what the next steps should be. We are not looking for simple solutions. We are looking for beginnings. Some of them may seem familiar by now, but they are no less challenging for that. Each addresses only a small piece of what silences us. Taken together, they can make a difference.
Yes. I get this. But, still, it’s hard to see that because no one acts on that. No one is actually putting their phones away. I wrote about years ago but the over availability of phones has made us constant cryers, in constant need of support and reassurance. We need to grow the fuck up.
After coming back from Paris, I started to hide my phone from myself. I started putting it away in my Activity Bag, hushing it’s allure behind a zipper. Sometimes I “forget” it and leave it at home. Not only is the act distinctly Euro but it has helped me “stop googling.” Just put your fucking phone away. Be that person who says, “Hey: no phones at dinner. Leave them at the door.” But also hold yourself accountable: unplug and be happy. Or don’t! Just be a sensible good person. Probably admire the Europeans and all the other places where technology and the need to be ON ON ON isn’t a thing. Try not to be American and you will stop googling.