Stare at Your Phone More

A few weeks ago I was at a family party. I’d been wrangling a 3-year old all day and I was exhausted. As he went into a room full of other kids, I took a seat for the first time in hours.

Knowing I had about 5 minutes left before the next explosion of toddler tears, I went for my phone. I wanted to fill that 5 minutes with something, anything, from the outside world. I just wanted a break from it all. I opened Twitter for the first time that day and caught a glimpse of some really great photography. Just what I needed. 

30 seconds into this respite came a tap on my shoulder. It was an older gentleman I didn’t know very well. Pointing at the room filled with kids, he said, “That’s what’s important.” In other words, put your phone away, idiot, and engage.

Normally, I would agree. In fact, this sounds like something I’d say to myself (if I hadn’t been exhausted already by what was important). But this time I went from happy to height of pissitivity in seconds. Where did this outbreak of smugness come from and what made it socially acceptable to impose your personality on others?

Honestly, I’ve done it before in my writing, when asking others to put down the camera and enjoy life. What if that enjoyment of life included the camera? After all, life is nothing but neurotransmitters bouncing back and forth. Who’s to say the thoughts derived from a device are any less valid than the thoughts from so-called “real” experiences?

Actually, quite a few social warriors believe they are the ones to say and it’s been all over the internet in recent days.

A new photo ad campaign tells us, “The more you connect, the less you connect." This makes sense as long as you don’t think about it.

Also making the rounds this week was a photo essay, The Death of Conversation, which is just black and white photos of people staring at their phones in public. It’s a manifesto for social nannies that seems to have no tolerance for the differences in personalities or life experience with commentary like:

"I felt that the devices were actually causing the awkwardness and the silence. They basically allow people to withdraw rather than engage.”

No, they allow people to engage more deeply with what they value. They just may not value you or your conversation that much.

In the palm of your hand, you have a device that contains the sum total of human knowledge, the preferred method of communication for a planet, a haven of comfort in desperate times and a pretty spiffy camera. You expect us to not use it? 

Not to mention that introverts, who account for around 40% of humans, now have a means of interacting with other humans that doesn’t require heavy amounts of recovery time. Cool!

Remember this meme from a few years ago? It’s right on the money. Humans have always been this way. It’s only the devices that change.

Jason Kottke also took on the topic of “screen addiction” this week: 

"People on smartphones are not anti-social. They’re super-social. Phones allow people to be with the people they love the most all the time, which is the way humans probably used to be, until technology allowed for greater freedom of movement around the globe.”

Smartphones have introduced a new golden era for photography. It’s about time we lost the smug expectations for some kind of urban social interaction utopia that never really existed in the first place.

Embrace your phone when you need to. Take those photos. Be grateful you live in these times.


This originally appeared in the A Lesser Photographer newsletter.