Imagine you’re sitting in a pub on a Thursday afternoon, waiting for your friend. There’s nothing to read, and you don’t really want to talk to any strangers; you’re just killing time, waiting. What do you do? Play with your mobile phone, right? You check your messages, maybe text someone, or play whatever games came pre-installed on your phone (I don’t trust people who specifically seek out, download, and then actually play games on their phones on a regular basis; that’s just weird).
I used to run out of things to look at pretty quickly and end up scrolling through my phonebook, deleting any stray contacts I didn’t like any more. Your phone, in these kinds of situations, isn’t providing you with much to actually do; it’s just a defence against awkwardness, something to look at so that you don’t accidentally make eye contact with a stranger. Playing with your mobile phone says “Don’t bother me. I am a person who has friends; in fact, I’m waiting to meet one of them now. It’s all cool. Just ignore me. Seriously, I’m fine, please leave me alone.” The phone is a talisman; it’s just something to do with your hands.
Or at least it used to be. But now I’ve got a smartphone, and that means that while I’m waiting around and killing time, I have access to the internet. The entire internet. I can check my email, my Facebook, my Twitter. I can catch up on my RSS feeds. Or I can log into Foursquare and see what my friends are doing and what stupid names people who live nearby have given their homes. There’s an endless amount of information I can look at on my phone while I’m waiting for my friend to arrive. Or my bus, or my food, or whatever I’m waiting for. Because now, I look at my phone all the time.
Whenever I have a spare few minutes, I’ll check my phone. It’s almost a reflexive action now: oh, gotta wait in this queue for a while: I’ll check my phone. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night: I’ll check my phone. My bus won’t be here for ten minutes: I’ll check my phone. My brain can’t cope with being unoccupied for more than about a minute. I’ve got to be connected, constantly. It’s not something I do because I’ve run out of other options; it’s the first thing I turn to. I don’t look out of the window on train journeys any more; I look at my phone. (I’ve even done it when I was a passenger in a car, which is just rude, really.)
It’s become an addiction, and I don’t think I’m the only one. In restaurants, you see people pull out their phones if their partner/date/friend gets up to go to the bar or the toilet. Even people just walking along the pavement are looking at their phones instead of looking where they’re going.
I need to break the habit. I’m trying to ignore the impulse to pull out my phone at every possible opportunity; I’m working on being able to be out in the world without doing anything other than sitting and looking. Doing nothing is underrated. I just hope no-one talks to me while I’m at it.