September 18, 2018
Powerful photo series"Removed" by Eric Pickersgill
A few weeks ago on my way back home, fidgeting in my seat on the bus and trying to read my book, I instead ended up watching this young man over the shoulder and was simply captivated by the way he was navigating his phone.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened really. Everyone is almost always on their phones (and I am no exception), but I just couldn’t take my eyes off the way this man was consuming content and at what speed he was looking for it to refresh.
Turning on Instagram, tapping on his own story, quickly scrolling through the list of people that have watched it, jumping to other stories and in split second clicking onto the next one, checking the number of people that watched someone else’s story.
Tapping back out to the main feed, scrolling mid-way and then back to the top.
Quitting Instagram and opening Facebook instead - similar behaviour of sporadically jumping from place to place at light speed.
Quickly bored, turning back to Instagram reviewing any new watchers of his story, then re-watching it himself for the nth time.
Returning back to the main feed and pulling the first post down so the little spinning circle would appear and encourage the app to refresh.
Finally bored and fully caught up on all that the apps had to offer, the man just ended up flicking between the home screens of his iPhone, left to right, left to right.
And the next moment went back to Instagram to repeat the whole cycle again.
This went on for 30 minutes until I finally arrived at my stop.
I tried not to compare myself to this person, but it was a great opportunity to witness a behaviour that has become the norm from a different perspective. It made me once again reflect on how perverse our relationship has become to social media and how hooked we are to it, without consciously realising it.
On the other hand, even when we do realise, it is so hard to control and reduce it. Not just because of our addictive human nature, but because platforms are intentionally built to exploit it and keep us hooked for as long as possible.
As a result, we’ve become bored of every moment, always convinced there is something more interesting happening elsewhere and never fully present or satisfied in the moment we are actually in.
And what is our life, if not the moment we are in?
The rest of it has already happened (that you cannot change); or what will happen in the future (which you cannot yet reach or control).
Our human experience is nothing but the present moment, yet we use every chance to escape from it.
So, I want you to join me in asking ourselves some uncomfortable questions in hope to bring more awareness to our habits and how this may be shaping our lives which is the moment we are in:
When did you consciously try to not take your phone as soon as you were bored, or were waiting in the queue and needed to kill time?
When is the last time you didn’t check your phone while having dinner or watching a series?
Has there been a day where you didn’t immediately turn your phone on first thing in the morning or when it wasn’t the last thing you checked before falling asleep?
When did you not listen to music or a podcast on your commute?
Have you ever thought about the impact this may have on your relationships and social interactions?
Do you find it difficult to keep your attention on one thing?
When witnessing or experiencing something incredible - a beautiful landscape, concert, or a show - how often is your first reflex to reach for your phone?
Do you feel annoyed if you missed the opportunity to capture it in time because now you won't be able to share it?
Now think of something that you keep on wanting to do, but keep on using the excuse you don’t have time for? If we’re being honest, is that really true?
Finally, when is the last time you were with yourself, by yourself? There isn't anything wrong in using your phone and consuming content. As long as we are choosing to do so in a conscious way. However, if the questions above made you reflect and realise that you're not truly happy about these habits or how dependent you've become, how do you go about changing it? Sadly, our attention has become the most valuable commodity and social platforms and tech companies only care about maximising the time we spend there and the time we use their devices. Packing it up with the most data they can collect on us just helps them turn more profits and invest more money into ever smarter algorithms. We shouldn't count on Facebook, Instagram and any media company to do the right thing here and look out for the impact they have on our societies. Where there is money, the drive is how to make more of it. The way they do that is through advertising (did you know that more than 90% of Google and Facebook revenue comes from advertising?), and advertisers simply care how to get more of your attention to sell you another thing you don't need. Thus the cycle continues. The good and bad news is that you're in control of this. The two catalysts that facilitate any change are having awareness (to know what you want to change) and your willingness to change (what you want to change). And these can be cultivated, but the work is on you. However you are using your phone or engaging with social platforms, make it a conscious decision. Let technology enrich your life as it was intended to, rather than steal it away from you.