Your External Brain and the iDrain
I read recently how having a smartphone is like having a slot machine in your hand. Every time you pick it up, you wonder what you’ll get. You’ve just got to know what you’ve received since you put it down. On your email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Three cherries?
A friend said, “Having this object within your reach is addicting.” I thought she meant that having the Encyclopedia Britannica in hand to answer your every question in the moment was addicting. She meant the slot machine.
There are other effects: texting neck, thumbs supposedly growing larger, people losing the ability to read facial cues, families texting instead of talking within the home, device lights bedside ruining sleep, mysterious waves irradiating our brains…who knows? For sure: teens hiding in their darkened rooms gaming (weird) instead of fleeing their parents (normal) to run around in the woods (healthy).
A woman on a plane told me she’d instructed her grandkids, “Leave those things in the car.” Horrified, they asked, “What will we do?” Her response: Talk to each other.
When people go on such “screen diets,” limiting their hours on devices, they feel freed yet perilously untethered. When we misplace our phones we absolutely panic, the cost and nuisance aside. We are disconnected, lost at sea. An animal cut off from its herd. Danger!
I once asked a techy friend a techy question and he said he knew the answer at one time but no longer needed to commit anything to memory because his External Brain had all the answers. How many times have you looked up a fact on your device and immediately forgotten the answer? Because you don’t need to know it any more.
Your “multi-purpose mobile computing device” has crazy stuff inside: a magnetometer, proximity sensors, barometer, gyroscope and accelerometer (Wikipedia!). Is all that in our internal brains?
The stats about smartphone use – 3 hours daily for adults, way more for teens – boggle. A decade ago it was 90 minutes. Apps are designed for addiction, with intentionally varying (slot machine!) reward patterns that tease your brain’s reward circuitry. We’re hooked.
With my phone, I mainly communicate – a lot. I’m hooked on communicating. I stress when I realize I haven’t responded to a missive, when the reality is that people send so many that they are hardly waiting for my answer.
If your kid constantly consulted an encyclopedia, you’d be thrilled. That’s the gorgeous Internet. But how many people are doing this? I do searches and read various newses, but mostly I’m texting and forwarding funny stuff. I “Google” with tremendous urgency things like, “Who’s hosting SNL?” or “What does Serena Williams weigh?” Not: “What is a Rhodes Scholar?”
So despite what most impresses about our devices — the world at our fingertips — many use ours mostly to spread joy. Nice! Until: suddenly the day’s over and your free time went down the iDrain. Your room untidy, tasks incomplete…and that class you were gonna take? The bridge club you were to form? All gone. When I’m in Boston I’m texting Vermont and when in Vermont I’m texting Boston when, really, who cares what I’m up to? Why do I have to “report in?” Send a photo? Suggest a restaurant?
I mostly quit Facebook. Because every time I went in, OOPS, there went another :45. I could’ve learned a musical instrument in the hours I wasted reading rampant, silly pandering in there – “Beautiful!”, “That roast looks delicious!” or, the worst, “You look like sisters!” where a woman and her daughter are pictured. Madness.
The line for phone etiquette is ever moving. First, it was rude to talk on your phone in an elevator with trapped others listening to the asininity of your half-convo. Then that became fine, then to be on your phone at a meal. Then to set your child up at a restaurant with an iPad, no earbuds. We don’t look up from our phone when people speak to us. We answer their questions while typing. Lately, I don’t look at them while we’re talking no matter what I’m doing. I first ascribed that to the increased concentration required in your 50s for word retrieval and recalling the names of celebrities. I’m staring a chair leg trying to describe a movie (Ryan … Gosling? Wait: Reynolds … er … O’Neal? Let me check my External Brain.) No, I’m not old; I’m just rude.
What’s the solution? Tweet suggestions to #rudeandgoingblindfromlooking10inchesawayallday. Happy Pesach, Happy Easter, and good day.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @uvgvt. Or by opening your mouth and forming words I receive with 2 sensors on my head.