There’s a table out front of the cafe. It’s a square, low-set thing surrounded by comfy couches and it’s always in use. Today, it’s occupied by a group of friends drinking coffee. At least, I assume they’re friends. It’s hard to tell because they’ve all got their phones in their hands, too busy texting and tweeting and Instagramming their cheesecake to talk to each other.
Nearby, a young couple talk about their plans for the weekend. In the middle of their conversation, a phone beeps. The woman doesn’t hesitate. She whips her phone from her bag and swipes across the screen while her partner continues talking about restaurants and movies. “What?” she says when he pauses for breath. “I wasn’t listening. Sarah wanted to ask me about Fiji, so I told her I’d call her later.”
At another table, a couple my age eat their croissants in silence. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Before she’s even picked up her bag, he’s pulled his phone out and is tapping away at it, completely oblivious to the world around him.
Everywhere I look, people are on their phones. Not talking on them, just tap-tap-tapping away. Who knows what they’re doing. Maybe they’re texting directions to a friend. Maybe they’re shopping. Maybe they’re flinging righteously angry birds at towers. I don’t know. But what I do know is what they’re not doing. They’re not looking at the world around them. They’re not communicating with their friends. They’re not communicating with themselves.
It’s that last statement that bothers me the most.
For so many people, the idea of being forced to sit and do nothing — to be trapped with nothing but their own thoughts for company — is the worst kind of Hell imaginable. A wait of two minutes is unendurable without the benefit of a phone to relieve the instantaneous boredom. And the thought of being stuck without that mindless entertainment for half an hour? Or an hour? Or a whole day?
I’ve heard it said. “What did you expect me to do, just sit here and do nothing for five minutes?”
Yeah, I kinda did. Because that time when you sit and “do nothing”? That time is valuable. That time is important for your mental and emotional wellbeing. Without that kind of downtime, when do you listen to your own thoughts? When do you truly think and reflect and consolidate everything you’ve seen and done? When do you just be you?
I worry. I do. The modern world is designed for entertainment. From Angry Birds to LOL Cats, World of Warcraft to Bachelor Pad, there are endless opportunities for us to immerse ourselves in electronic Novocaine. And our Smart phones make that possible even when we’re on the go.
Do you know what happens when you spend all your time immersed in electronic media? When you rely on your TV, computer, iPod, and phone to entertain you every minute of free time?
Nor do I.
But do you know what happens when you don’t?
Creativity. Passion. Inspiration.
All those things that require an open, quiet mind.
Think about what you’re doing when you get your best, most crazy exciting ideas. Chances are, it’s either when you’re asleep (or near sleep), when you’re exercising, or when you’re in the shower. When was the last time you had a crazy, exciting, inspired idea playing Angry Birds?
I don’t have a smart phone. I don’t have games on my dumb phone. But even I sometimes fall into the trap. Even I sometimes find myself thinking I’ve got five minutes to wait. I’ll just check my email…
Do me a favour. Next time you’ve got to sit and wait for five minutes, just sit and wait. Leave your phone in your pocket or your purse or your bag or your car or (gasp!) back at your house. Sit. Wait. Look at the world around you. Let your thoughts wander and see where they end up.
You know, the way you used to back in the olden days .