Does this article sound familiar?
It begins with a tale of a distracted parent ignoring their child who is staring into the abyss of their phone screen. Then, we hear from a musician frustrated at the sea of screens that greet them onstage. A few thought leaders and TED speakers are quoted about the downsides of multi-tasking, the inadequacy of modern communication, and how technology has become too good at capturing and holding our attention.
Next comes anecdotes about efforts to swim against the tide: technology detox camps for adults; the return of vinyl records and other tangible, inefficient medium that force us to slow down; and dinners where you must relinquish your phone and the first to retrieve it pays.
It concludes with the author’s furtive attempts to live in the moment by leaving their phone behind to attend a concert or dinner with friends, then turning off their devices for the weekend. They enjoyed it and found themselves less distracted and stressed. They read a book! The next day, though, things were back to normal. Nevertheless, they hope they’ll be able to enjoy moments a little more in the future.
New versions of this article appear as a sort of penance each week in publications that, it must be conceded, encourage the opposite the other six days.
After much reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all a bit silly.
First, I don’t find the detox weekends, rules, and individual attempts at changing behavior effective. I believe change is possible in community with people who desire the same thing. Apps and social networks are more skilled at capturing and holding our attention than casinos are at attracting gamblers, and yet we’re told there’s no need to leave the casino. A dash of boundaries and dollop of self-control and we can walk freely amongst the slot machines.
Second, "Put down your phone and just enjoy the moment" is often another way of saying, "I think what you do on your phone is a waste of time." We all do lots of things on our devices, but we tend to reserve our judgement for what others do on theirs.
I don’t think we can or should define what it means to be in the moment for someone else. Is taking a photo on a special night out for a friend who had to miss out not being in the moment? How about teasing your partner with a text from the concert that they’re playing the song with the lyrics they hilariously misunderstood? What about checking IMDB during a movie?
I spend a lot of time in coffee shops and always note the warm, glowing smiles on people’s faces as they read something on their phones, surrounded by pastries, a laptop, and yes, now and then, other friends. It’s still a moment, and they’re definitely in it.
A few months ago, I was waiting for lunch outside next to some picnic tables and watched the most beautiful thing. A person was eating facing their iPhone propped up against the umbrella pole. They were sharing lunch with a friend over FaceTime, the entire conversation in sign language.
Moments take many forms and people experience them in vastly different ways. They needn’t be ranked or quantified, with points deducted for the presence of a screen.
Let’s just enjoy them and the people we share them with, wherever they are.