It is no longer a news story that we are all pretty much addicted to our smart phones. With every ring, buzz and alert we buzz a little bit with excitement. Oh muh gaw! Someone liked my post on Facebook! Someone’s texting me!
Seattle writer Michael Stusser wasn’t especially addicted to his smart phone. But then this happened:
“I was having dinner, it was a nice Italian restaurant and some guy said, ‘Hey, I want you guys to see this viral video.’ I said, ‘Please don’t do that.’ Immediately everyone else at the table [said,] ‘Shut up! Let’s check it out!’ They were all watching TV at dinner!”
This inspired an experiment. Michael spent a week “techno gorging” and then he gave it all up, cold turkey.
“The techno gorge was where I tried to be as fully immersed in digital madness as humanly possible. That includes foursquareing every single place I was, Skyping in the car, Tweeting like a madman. I was the rude guy in the Starbucks line answering texts and never having eye contact. I mean, I really did hate myself during that.”
That week, Michael averaged 16 hours a day of online activity. He says the average teenager spends 11 hours a day texting, gaming and surfing the web. Teens also text an average of 3700 messages a week and Michael tried to do the same. But he put down his phone for a few minutes to visit his doctor to see how all the screen time might be affecting his health.
“My blood pressure was off the charts. I’d been to see him for my annual exam only a few months earlier. I was pretty normal at that time and literally jumped up 40 points. My pulse was super high. It’s not just constant Words With Friends and texts, it was the anticipation of incoming messages. So even if door opened or I heard a sound, I was checking my phone and a little bit jumpy.”
After a week of techno gorging, Michael put his phone away. No cell phone, no Internet.
“It was just peaceful. People wrote me letters through snail mail, which was nice. A couple times, when you leave the house and you don’t have a cell phone, you’re freaking out. I freaked out for the first couple of days. But, I just would leave a note for somebody. ‘Hey, I’m at this restaurant. If all hell breaks out, find me there.’ It’s what we used to do!”
Michael enlisted a 15-year-old high school student, who often has his cell phone taken away as punishment, to be his Sherpa through his technology blackout.
“He said, ‘Just keep busy.’ Because if all you’re thinking about is your phone then, yeah, you’re going to be freaking out. So, ‘Don’t focus on your phone and try and get a grip, man!'”
Michael also challenged others to put their smart phones down.
“I went on a blackout date. I said, ‘Hey, will you do this with me? Set your phone down?’ She has a kid and it was very stressful for her. She was like, ‘What am I supposed to do with my hands? What am I gonna do?’ By the end, we enjoyed it. There was more conversation, there was more eye contact. So I think, one by one, people just have to decide: do we want to try a night where we don’t bring the phone?”
Taking a break from technology sometimes means forcing others to take a break. Michael went to the library to do research, and had to get the librarian to help him by using the Dewey Decimal system. When his realtor picked him up to look at homes, Michael turned off the GPS and pulled out a map.
You know, like we used to do it. Before we completely lost our attention spans.
“They did a study from Buddy Media. Tweets are too long for the average American. 140 characters too long, 100 is the Tweet spot! 100 characters! So it’s going in the wrong direction, you know, we’re going to get two words out.”
When it comes to three very important words, just remember that it’s something technology can never fulfill.
Me: “Siri, do you love me?”
Siri: “Do I what?”
Me: “Do you LOVE me?”
Siri: “I’m not capable of love.”