I’ve had it.
I was at the gym yesterday and I saw a guy on a basketball court playing with one hand while talking on his cellphone. Another guy had an iPod Shuffle with a set of big puffy stylish headphones AND his cellphone, both of which he carried around and spent at least 1-2 minutes fussing with prior to actually lifting weights. I saw another girl almost eat it on an elliptical machine while trying to coordinate her headphones with her headband. I looked around, and I was one of probably 3 people in the entire place without headphones on.
I saw a grandmother stopped in the line of traffic, completely oblivious to other cars because she was on her cellphone. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen step out into the middle of traffic without looking under the assumption that talking on a cellphone without regard to your survival is normal and nothing bad could possibly happen. About half of the people I see driving cars are looking down, not holding onto the steering wheel.
Now, I will openly admit that upon thinking these thoughts, my first reaction was, “Man, David, you’re getting OLD. You sound OLD.” But that’s such an easy target. I’m not a cantankerous old man at the corner coffee shop, dark socks pulled up to his knees, yelling outdated obscenities at the barista, “Four dollars?!?!?! I remember when coffee was a NICKEL!!” I’m not lamenting the way things “used to be,” I’m not complaining about “kids today,” and I’m certainly not saying that I’m innocent of these wireless crimes.
Wirelessness was meant to be convenient. The whole idea seemed to be tethered in an untethered state of being, a way of being simultaneously connected and unconnected. I find the unchecked reality of it to be more disconnected than anything.
Here’s what I see when I look around at what wireless devices have brought us:
WIRES. Lots and lots of them. Headphones, headphones with microphones, recharging cords and syncing cables, wires to connect you to your car, your computer, the wall. They’re always tangled up and getting in the way of whatever primary task I’m trying to complete while multi-tasking. And let’s face it, multi-tasking isn’t real anyway. The wires of our wireless selves look more and more like marionette strings to me.
EMAIL TURNS MY TIME INTO SWISS CHEESE. I can’t help myself—I check my email on my phone all the time. To do so, I have to unlock my phone, push my email icon, navigate back to my “All Inboxes” tab, wait for it to load, scan through to see if anything good came, throw away anything I don’t want, return to my main screen, double tap to turn off the app, then lock my phone. Even when there is no email, this process takes about 30 seconds to a minute to complete, sometimes more depending on the available wireless signal. There are days when I have easily checked my email at least 30 times, just because it’s something that I can do. Then whenever I sit down at my computer, it’s the first thing that I check there, even though nothing has probably changed since I looked 15 minutes ago. I rarely return emails on my phone, it’s a terrible medium for writing—and I personally think that Apple did an incredible job on making the interface as good as it could possibly be. I want my 30 minutes a day back.
BIG EXPERIENCES ARE SMALL. Watching videos on cellphones sucks. Browsing the internet on cellphones sucks. Reading a book on cellphones sucks. Listening to music on cellphones sucks. Listening to music on iPods isn’t much better in terms of sound quality, though at least it’s more focused as a device. The only thing that cellphones are really better for is talking on the phone—including FaceTime, which is arguably wonderful, but it’s just another way of talking on the phone. I’ll also give it some props for it’s mapping and GPS functions, but for literally everything else, it’s an inferior experience, and it always will be. Just about anything that I try to do on my iPhone could be done in half the time on a desktop.
BOREDOM IS EASILY CREATED. Since I started reading books again recently, I’ve been reminded of the value of an experience. The internal and external result of a quality activity is exponentially greater than the empty calories of inane space fillers. Going to see a movie in a theater, reading a good book, listening to a record on a good hi-fi, having great dinner conversation, going to see live entertainment—these are transformative experiences that can hang in the air for days after they’re over.
So this is what I’m going to try to do in order to evolve beyond this infantile stage of societal wirelessness: I’m not checking my email on my phone more than once a day. That’s right. And I’m only going to do it to sync my accounts, so I may not even do it that much. I never interact unless I’m on my desktop, so I’m cutting the cord on this supposedly cordless waste of time.
Perhaps I’ll use the 30 minutes I save today to record some acoustic guitar tracks for my album. Or I’ll put some crayon scrawls in coloring books with my daughter. Or I’ll curl up with my wife and chat. Those all seem like a much more valuable use of my time.
“She loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm. It had the same significance for her as an elegant cane for the dandy a century ago. It differentiated her from others.”
—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I’m going to try walking down the street without ANYTHING. It is my new bearable wireless-lessness of being.