In London last weekend, we found ourselves at the Wigmore Hall for a concert by a string quartet, that genre being a particular addiction of Mrs Trafford’s. As we entered, the performers’ music stands were almost obscured by a huge notice bearing the symbol of a mobile phone crossed out. It seemed an unnecessary an intrusive reminder, fortunately removed before the performers took their seats.
Unnecessary? perhaps. At least, I never heard a ringtone during the music, an interruption that’s frequent enough nowadays. but I was amazed how, even during the performance, people all over the audience – probably listeners in their twenties, I’d guess – were constantly checking messages and social media, mercifully without accompanying beeps and pings. Were they so addicted to social media that they couldn’t manage without their phones just for 30 minutes at a time? Apparently not.
To be fair, even people my age now find it hard to conduct our lives without our smartphones. When my iPhone refuses to charge properly (it must be all of 2½ years old, so is practically obsolete!), I start to panic. It’s not that I need to be reachable by phone: I don’t make many calls nowadays. But the emails arrive constantly: plus texts and other messages from the family, wherever they might be; and, of course, there’s that necessity to keep up to date on Twitter (and with the Voice of the North blogsite).
I’m not a user of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or all those other social media: but others are, and are checking their position on them constantly.
Yes, life without such things is truly unimaginable. And some people, even the young, are starting to realise that such dependency is not a good thing.
Last weekend I read a news article about how some people are now ditching their high-tech phones and deliberately going for very simple machines that merely make and receive calls: they can still be reached in an emergency, but aren’t engulfed by the tsunami of digital messaging in which we constantly swim.
The new so-called Light Phone is on sale in the US for about $100: it will be reach the UK by the end of the year. Cunningly using the same number as your smartphone, it will only, er, make and receive calls. What a bargain! Only $100 to cut down on your technological addiction!
It’s the digital equivalent of low-fat yogurt. We buy foods with nothing in them, so we don’t get fat. If we thought about it, and had a bit of self-control, we could just eat less. But we don’t. So we buy the product.
Perhaps smartphone addicts really do need this invention, a dumbphone.
Moreover, all over the western world you can now sign up for “killyourphone” workshops aimed at cracking that addiction: you can learn to walk away from your smartphone and all those messages and networks for as much as 20 minutes (yes!) at a time.
You’ll detect a note of scorn here. Indeed, I do think it’s feeble that some of us can achieve digital abstinence only by means of courses or the adoption of deliberately archaic machines. Honestly demands, however, that I confess to being regularly scolded by my teacher-daughters on occasions when we’re together enjoying a pub lunch and I (unwisely) check my phone. I defend myself by observing that in my job I’m never really out of touch, beyond contact: but there’s some right on both sides that argument.
We should worry about young people and technology. In my school we recently encouraged teenagers to participate in a survey of phone use, including how often they check their phone in the middle of the night.
The middle of the night? Isn’t technology banned from the bedroom? Mrs Trafford and I agree and follow that rule: but we’re middle-aged. Research tells us that up to a quarter of young people are undoubtedly waking up at all hours through the night – just to make sure that they don’t miss out on developments in their strange virtual-social world.
That’s crazy: but it happens. Following the networks all the time causes emotional upset and unhappiness: the fear is palpable. In such groups, the messaging can be cruel, hurtful and damaging.
It’s fashionable after Christmas to have a month-long detox, a dry January. Maybe some of these ideas for digitally detoxifying ourselves, reducing or eliminating our addiction, aren’t mad after all.
It’s not the idea of reducing dependence that’s mad: it’s we who so readily become dependent on technology whose sanity is questionable.