The dark truth is that it is hard to find anyone and certainly anything more interesting than a smartphone. We love these devices and would never want us to give them up, but we are all probably also gently aware that these delightful gadgets bear a hidden cost.
To say that we are addicted to our phone is not merely to point that we use them a lot. It signals a darker notion: that we use them to keep ourselves at bay. Because of our phones, we may find ourselves incapable of sitting alone in a room with our own thoughts floating freely in our own heads, daring to wander into the past and future, allowing ourselves to feel pain, desire, regret, and excitement. We are addicted to our phones not because we rely on them, but to the extent that we recruit them to a harmful project of self-avoidance. They do not mean to hurt us. But we may and probably do use them to injure ourselves.
Addiction sounds horrible. However, it is a hard name for a normal inclination: a habit of running away from the joys and terrors of self-knowledge. We can look up so much on our phones. We can check up the population of Lima (8.473 million), who won the ladies final at Wimbledon in 1997 (Martina Hingis), the definition of ‘tautology’ (saying the same thing twice though in different ways) or perhaps the author of that fascinating quote “what you survive makes you stronger” (Nietzsche). Yet this constant resource has an unwitting, unfortunate side-effect.
We consult our phones, rather than ourselves. It is not the fact we actually know so many obscure facts. But we already possess in scattered, unpolished forms, the raw material from which a huge number of the very best insights and ideas could be formed if we only gave them enough time and attention. Almost since the beginning of time, we have prized the opportunity to get away from reminders of humanity and to immerse ourselves in nature. We have wanted to gaze on the grey indifference of the ocean or the bright, incalculable, immensity of the starry sky. But our phones are the enemies of such experiences. We may be on the edge of the Grand Canyon and they are beeping in our back pockets.
We constantly use our phones to keep track of our appointments. But if we stop and think about it. We are quite constrained around the things to which we choose to be alerted. There is the automated reminder of the session with the dentist, the alert to jog our memories that it is our parents anniversary or the text message to let us know that we are due to play a tennis match on Sunday afternoon. But there are other appointments that are very different, we need to keep in mind. We need reminders to keep appointments with ourselves. We need to spend time with our own worries, to understand them rather than just suffer the anxiety they create.
Our phones seem amazingly sophisticated. They are small miracles of compressed, practical science, working hand in hand with advanced capitalism. We think so highly of them only because we compare them to the past, rather than to the possibilities of the future. They are so much more advanced than any device we could possess twenty or forty years ago. Yet they are almost unbearably primitive, in comparison with what idea the long future will bring. We are so far from inventing the technology we really require for us to flourish.