The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.
By: Adam Broidy
The recurring dream I have goes like this: in a dark room, people are sitting around a table with digital screens in front of them. The room’s inhabitants are quietly typing and no one is speaking. Their eyes are fixated on the glowing screens. Everyone is chatting with someone somewhere, but the only sound in the room is of fingers striking keys.
The scene feels like it could come from the kind of world Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it’s one that has kept me up wondering: Is there is any way to prevent our society from becoming so dependent on digital communication that we forget how to connect as human beings?
A recent Collegehumor.com video takes this line of questioning to the extreme with a sketch of a husband and wife fighting solely via Siri, an intelligent software application on the iPhone. Might seem far-fetched, but is it really? Out at dinner last week, I watched a friend sitting across from me texting on her mobile phone. To my right, another was in a similar position: head facing down at a forty-five degree angle, hands under the table, one hand holding his phone while the other rapidly texted. Chances are, you’ve had a similar experience, and perhaps you are reading this article on your smartphone while out with someone right now.
Even a few years ago, this kind of scenario would’ve been the stuff of satire. Today, it’s fast becoming not only acceptable, but the norm: people are using their mobile phones at home, work, school, and even in typically quiet sanctuaries like libraries and theaters. The disturbing part of this trend is not just where people are using their phones, but how. It’s not uncommon to see individuals using their phone while eating, walking, jogging, watching a movie, and even driving. According to Pew Internet’s Americans and their cell phones study, “eight in ten American adults (83%) own a cell phone of some kind”, while “One third of American adults (35%) own a smartphone.”
First, the good. With smartphones, we can now easily find and share information, email, text, use social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, and enjoy music and video on the go.
These benefits come with a cost in that even as we can associate with people around the world cheaply and easily, we’re losing our ability to connect with the people right in front of us right now. As Dr. Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford, described in Attached to Technology and Paying a Price, “The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other. It shows how much you care.”
In the interests of full disclosure, I’ve spent the past several years living with two mobile phones attached at the hip to cover work and personal lives. And so I wanted to see if it was it even possible for me to survive without a phone.
I asked myself this prior to spending three weeks traveling through Scandinavia last year. I made it my mission to leave both phones at home, spend no time on the computer or Internet, and just see how I felt.
The answer didn’t take long to find. After just a few days of digital detox, I felt more relaxed than I had in years. My mind was able to focus on the world around and in front of me. By the end of my trip I felt like I had been away for months and didn’t miss having a phone in the slightest. The principal insight was my daily behavior of being married to my mobile phone was making me miss out authentic experiences in connecting with people.
For example, one night while in Oslo, Norway, I went out blindly navigating the streets with my intuition, no mobile phone at hand to help guide me with GPS or Google Maps. And after becoming lost, I asked a group of locals for directions. Making a long story short, a few hours later I was bar hopping with them engaged in fascinating conversation about American politics. I connected to people I would have never have met if I’d been relying on my phone. This is only one example, but I could fill a book with others from this trip alone.
Post the trip, I still do have a mobile phone. I’m a realist and don’t foresee phones disappearing from our lives—and if anything the opposite seems more likely. But I have hope: there are innovative initiatives out there such as Reboot’s Sabbath Manifesto, Offlining and Adbuster’s Digital Detox Week that espouse taking time away from technology to slow down our hectic lives, spending more time connecting with loved ones and giving back to society. Ultimately it is up to us to learn how to balance our use of technology while staying connected with each other and remaining human.
Therefore, will you join me in closing down this browser window, putting away your computer and shutting off your mobile phone for even just a day?
If you do, and when you are back online, please leave a comment below and share this experience with us all.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Adam Broidy now lives in San Francisco pursuing a MBA in Design Strategy at CCA. You can connect with Adam via email or Linkedin, or perhaps you’ll run into him during one of his digital detoxed adventures.