This week, I realized that I might be addicted to media.
No, I don’t mean social media. I mean media in general. That includes the internet, phone apps, music, etc.
I’ve looked at my phone
11 12 times since starting this post. I started out writing about how to disconnect from your electronics while traveling.
After toiling fruitlessly for an hour, I realized that I couldn’t even disconnect from my electronics while writing this post, so I had to scrap that idea.
I’m dating myself with what I’m about to say, but when I first went to college, cellphones weren’t as common as they are now. When I was a kid, only rich people had them. My parents had to force me to accept one when they dropped me off at university.
I didn’t want anyone having 24-hour access to me. Now, I feel naked without it.
I recently watched Look Up by Gary Turk, and it spoke to me. Media addiction is an old topic that has been addressed numerous times over the years, but I’ve never actually applied the message to my life.
I’ve watched profound presentations, and I’ve listened to poignant poems from satirical storytellers, but they’ve never managed to make a dent, until now.
This week, as I struggled to write this post, I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time. Writing has always been easy to me, and I’ve always been more expressive with the pen than I was vocal.
My writing has always come from my experiences and from thoughts that I couldn’t vocalize, but I was stuck this week. I had a topic and an outline, but they had no substance or value.
What was different? I had no inspiration. Everything I write is inspired by an awkward interaction or an event from my life, but it was impossible to draw on that inspiration this week.
Over the last month, I haven’t done much in terms of interacting with the outside world.
Without realizing it, I’ve slowly created a bubble that is nearly impenetrable by outsiders. I’ve also cut off my primary source of inspiration – people.
I’m a listener, and I’m an observer, but I haven’t done much of either recently. When I hear something intriguing, I deposit it in my mental bank for use at a later time. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I don’t talk much, but it’s not because I don’t like talking. I enjoy listening more.
How Did I Get to This Point?
That’s the million-dollar question.
Every time I leave the house, I have my wallet, my keys, my cellphone, and my headphones. The keys and wallet are mandatory, but what about the cellphone and headphones? What purpose do they serve?
Truthfully, I keep them on-hand to help me pass any periods of boredom or isolation. They also serve as my primary defense against an awkward interaction. As is the case with many of us, I use my phone as a crutch.
If I’m alone, I walk down the street with music blasting through my headphones so that I can avoid conversations with strangers. I also use my phone when I’m surrounded by new people and not feeling chatty at the moment.
It’s like an awkward interaction between you and a coworker. You enter the hallway, and you see that coworker who makes you uncomfortable. You know they’ve already seen you, so it’s too late to find another route. Besides, you don’t want to makes things any weirder than they’re about to be.
Instead of exchanging pleasantries and moving along, you find a distraction.
Suddenly, the wall has caught your eye, and you can’t stop looking at it as you pass your coworker in the hallway. Even better is when you remember that thing on your phone that must be addressed immediately, so you stare attentively at your device while hoping to avoid an awkward interaction.
I’ve been on both sides of each scenario. Depending on the day, I’m the person avoiding the interaction. If I’m in a joking mood, I like to watch the other person do their best Stevie Wonder impersonation as they pass me.
My distraction is music.
It’s funny because the things we do to avoid each other are what make situations awkward.
We’re All Connected
Every once in a while, I have a moment in which I successfully detach from my devices.
At that moment, I’m able to think clearly, and I can easily see everything happening in my immediate vicinity. At that moment, I notice the zombie-like presence and emotionless faces of the people around me as they blankly stare at their mobile devices. I think to myself, “Is that what I look like?”
I know that this is the norm nowadays, but am I the only one who finds it weird to see a bus or train full of people who are actively avoiding each other. Again, I do it too, so I’m no better, but it’s still strange to see.
Growing up in New York City back in the ’90s, you had a good reason not to stare at people or make eye contact for too long without saying something. It was a sign of disrespect, and there were potential consequences that accompanied that sort of thing. If you lived in a neighborhood that operated by that code, you were all too familiar with the rules. You knew how to navigate the environment.
But the rest of the world doesn’t operate with a ’90s New York mentality, so why are we still avoiding each other?
Learning to Disconnect
I’m not saying that phones are the problem. I merely believe that phones make it easier for us to avoid one another.
How do we put down the electronics and learn to enjoy the company of our neighbors again? If I knew the answer to that, you wouldn’t be reading this.
To combat my diminishing desire for social interaction, I try to remind myself to speak to at least one stranger everywhere I go. Some days I’m successful, and other days I’m not. It’s an ongoing process.
Even short interactions like hello or have a nice day, those brief interactions are helpful. They’re like warm-up sets in the gym.
As naked as I feel when I forget my phone at home, those are some of my best days. My instincts kick in, and I engage the people around me in conversation.
It makes me laugh when people are shocked by my conversational side. Sometimes I shock myself because I’ve become so accustomed to immersing myself in a digital world and neglecting the real world.
The one thing I’ve realized is that the more time I spend away from my phone, the more social I get, and the more creative I get. Instead of seeing a potentially awkward interaction, and I see an opportunity.
I can’t eliminate electronics from my life, because they’re essential to what I do, so what are my options? I guess the next quest needs to be a search for balance.
So, how many times did you check your phone while reading this?
A Jaded ’80s Baby