Gabriel Greschler is a sophomore politics major.
I read Sherry Turkle’s book a number of years ago, titled “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.” Turkle is a professor at MIT who has written extensively about technology affecting human relationships. She writes that “People are lonely. The network is seductive. But if we are always on [our smartphones], we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude.” This passage struck me as an incredibly forewarning and rare piece of work that spoke out against a very common phenomenon: over-reliance and addiction to smartphones and the internet. In fact, I found her words to be so inspiring that I decided to try an experiment, spending the entire month of February without a smartphone.
After a whole month, Turkle’s writing rings even truer. Smartphones have completely destroyed our ability to reflect, while also discouraging creativity.
Something I noticed within the first couple of days of February were the times between classes or standing in line at the supermarket where I would have nothing to do but look around and think to myself. Usually, I would have normally filled in these gaps of nothingness with my phone, a temporary Band-Aid on the blank periods of the day. Sitting at the bus stop, I would most likely have messaged a friend, checked email, or listened to some music. Without a phone, however, I had nothing to do but just sit there.
It was boring at times, but there was something incredibly powerful with coming to terms with doing nothing. While before, I found myself sometimes scared of these blank moments, I now see them as momentary periods of relaxation for my mind. If we are constantly stimulated throughout the day, and wedge our only chance of mental downtime with our smartphones, we are missing out on not only on a rare chance of reflection, but an opportunity to turn our creative gears.
Towards the second half of the month, my creative processes were changing. Apart from the added bonus of not having a constant distraction, I started to think about what role the smartphone played in balancing consumption with creative output. Throughout the day, we interact with different objects that fall within a spectrum between consumption and creative oriented. While smartphones offer a creative platform to a certain extent, mostly through photography, I found myself using it purely for consumption, disrupting the important balance between intake of information and output of content.
With the absence of a smartphone, I found room in my mind to write more and think more. In the span of a month, I finished two and a half books. If my mind was like a bag of groceries, it now had room to be filled with a variety of different foods. This is not to say to say that it is impossible to possess a creative spirit while simultaneously owning a smartphone, but we must be careful when balancing creativity and consumption. Our phones are dangerously angled towards the latter.
I still do see a time and place for smartphones and the Internet. It lets us connect with those far away, listen to music from all around the world and informs us of international developments. It would be foolish and naïve to think that smartphones should be cut out entirely from our lives.
But if there is something I learned over the month of not owning a smartphone, it is that we miss out on a lot of the world – and our own selves – when looking down at our screens.
Photo: LUKE WROBLEWSKI/FLICKR