It's probably time you put down the smartphone
Sometimes I ride the SkyTrain disguised as a normal officegoer, mingling with the thousands rushing to work or studies or whatever awaits them at the end of the line.
I see wretched, red-eyed zombie faces staring joylessly at tiny little screens, cranium encased by headphones—all practitioners of the Zen art of looking morose yet expressionless while listening to your favourite song.
The action is not restricted to the face and head. The digits come into play too, doing their crazy (involuntary?) dance across the screen—pinching, rubbing, tapping in a hundred little intimate gestures. Whole lotta scrolling, and zooming, going on.
With touchscreens becoming the interface standard, three out of five senses are engaged in our obsessive relationship with the shiny black plastic thing that goes everywhere we go. Now all that remains is for someone to develop a lickable (and smellable) chocolate ice cream app, and there go our last two senses.
All this sensory overload adds up to one thing: sleeplessness. Back on the SkyTrain, I can sense that few of my fellow passengers have had eight straight hours of sleep in a long time. The Internet never sleeps, and neither does the connected crowd, which finds it increasingly difficult to disconnect.
It is midnight in Vancouver, but it is a new day in Europe and a not-so-new day in Asia. Since our list of virtual friends now extends from strangers in our neighbourhood to strangers in faraway lands, chances are that someone has just "liked" our comment on the comment on the picture that was tagged by the guy who was with the girl who was photographing her lunch in Hong Kong.
And then there is the texting pandemic, spread through the irresponsible use of mobile devices. Email still had a certain protocol. Put up the screen, fire up the machine, start your email client, and then check your messages. No more— all that foreplay is gone.
Now it is just DING! The message pops up on the tiny screen that never sleeps: Wotu up2?—Nttin u? —chilln, jus8 to chklt mffn lol—gros lol. And so on.
Traditionalists have bemoaned the loss of the art of conversation for a long time, so we can safely ignore them. But how do you overcome the loss of some consonants, many vowels, and almost all coherence?
The answer to all this loss of language and mobile-induced insomnia, like all good answers, is painfully simple.
Every message doesn’t require an instant response. In fact, unless you are the critical person in an emergency, you can probably go an entire day (gasp!) without looking at your incoming messages/texts/tweets. Radical, eh?
I know, I know… it is very tempting to check and acknowledge and respond. Oh the thrill as the smartphone vibrates restlessly, demanding our loving attention, feeding our craving.
Of the millions of random bits and bytes floating across the ether, these ones are meant for me. Someone acknowledges my existence. I matter. I AM. I must say something now!
Each conversation is a dotted line and we’re not really sure what the space between those dots should be. Should some of those dots be dashes? At what point is the line deemed broken? And if it's broken, who is expected to initiate the new line?
Tough questions. Even as they put finishing touches on books about email etiquette and social media guidelines, some new technological twist renders them obsolete. We’ll just have to make the rules (and break them) on the fly.
Here, for what it’s worth, is my one rule: be cool.
If no one is about to die, then it is probably not an emergency. You don’t have to react immediately just because you can. Some matters demand our urgent attention, others don’t. Let the logic of the situation inform the speed of your response.
And try and get some sleep occasionally.