I’m twenty-two years old, but when it comes to conversations about the culture of smartphones, I turn into a cranky old lady. “Those whippersnappers on their iPhones! Bah!”
I get grumpy because technology has caused society to take a disturbing turn. Case in point: last month, my family celebrated my dad’s birthday at our favorite restaurant. A few tables down sat a group of teens in long dresses and suits; it was their prom night. Part of the way into our meal, we looked over at them and found them in silence. They were staring down at their phones.
We’re victims — and perpetrators — of the digital age. If a span of silence interrupts a conversation, we deem it awkward, reach into our pockets, and whip out our phones. If we’re bored, we launch Facebook. If we actually meet someone face-to-face, we are almost obligated to memorialize it with a status, tweet, or Instagram selfie.
But doing this makes us miss out on so much.
To Record or Not to Record?
That is the question that plagues our generation: whether it’s better to capture everything that’s going on around us for memory’s sake, or to put the camera down and just experience the moment.
It would seem that many choose the former. We may do it in the hopes that our work will go viral. Others of us have a “memory packrat” complex of some sort; that is, we want to take multiple photos and videos so that we won’t forget the details of the experience.
Whatever the case, it’s a pricey choice. Every second we spend taking a photo or video of an experience costs us a second of living that experience. We spend so much time trying to capture memories that we forget to create them.
This isn’t to say that we should never take photos again. There’s nothing like looking back at old pictures and reminiscing. But if we’re shooting a video of fireworks during the Fourth of July, like I did a few years ago, can I suggest that we’re missing out?
Multitasking: The Loch Ness Monster of the Digital Age
“But who’s to say I can’t shoot a video and watch my child do a somersault at the same time?” you might ask.
Excellent question. The answer is science: science says you can’t.
According to neuroscientists, there’s really no such thing as multitasking. It’s the Loch Ness Monster of our generation: there’s no such thing, but people still swear it exists.
Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, can explain what’s really going on when you go on Facebook and talk to your friend at the same time: “‘You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.’”
The fact that we can do this in the first place is a result of our incredible minds: the Broadman’s Area 10, to be specific. Located at the front of our brains, it allows us to shift our focus rapidly.
So you can shoot a video and watch your kid do a somersault at the same time. But your child will only consume half of your attention. The other half will be spent ensuring that she’s fully encapsulated within your screen. Which means you’re not experiencing the event in full.
And our inability to multitask doesn’t just apply to shooting videos and photos. We divide our attention and pull the trigger on our productivity when we attempt to text at work. Staring at our phones and computers makes us miss what’s going on around us. Good ol’ fashioned, face-to-face communication suffers because we’re not entirely present during the conversation.
So turn off your phone and put it away. Log out of Facebook. Tone it down with the selfies. Close your laptop. Meet up for coffee with an old friend. Go outside. Feel the sunshine beam on your face. Let the wind caress your skin.
What do you think? Should more people dedicate some time to being offline?
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.