Tuesday, 30 June 2015

On the margins of the mobile world

What kind of idiot drops their mobile phone down the loo? That's what I thought to myself a few months ago when my brother lost his iPhone to a watery grave. Now it seems I too have become an idiot. And yes, it fell out of my back pocket.

Since that unfortunate incident, I have been through four  stages of phone bereavement: 
  • initial optimism that the phone would survive its immersion in toilet water (it didn't)
  • panic that no one would be able to contact me
  • twinges of envy mixed with nostalgia every time I heard someone else's phone ping
  • and finally acceptance.

Two teenage girls checking their mobile phones
Teenagers: too exposed to the dangers of mobiles?
© Ctvvelve | Dreamstime.com 
I have been forced to order a new phone but as I wait for it to arrive, I am enjoying an odd sense of peace. During a spare moment - waiting to pick up the children for instance - I no longer reach into my handbag to check my emails. Instead, I just sit/stand and quietly watch the world go by.

Although such vacant behaviour is highly unusual in our communications-crazed society, I have noticed a growing backlash against the all-pervasive smartphone and the effect it is having on our brains. Once upon a time, it was thought that new technologies (washing machines, dishwashers, etc.) would free us up from our daily chores, but sadly mobile phones have had the opposite effect. Most of us are constantly plugged into our screens, either working away from the office, addicted to games or engaged in social activities. 

Less focus than a goldfish


Earlier this month Microsoft released a study showing that our ability to concentrate on a particular task has shortened over the last decade. Since 2000 - or the start of the mobile revolution - our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. Even a goldfish can maintain its focus for longer at nine seconds! It seems smartphones and screens are to blame: the study suggests our lapse in concentration is habitually caused by mobiles ringing, notifications or an alert going off. 

Teenagers are thought to be particularly vulnerable as they have never experienced a world without smartphones. Their addiction to social media, combined with increasing pressures to succeed academically, is said to be contributing to a decline in adolescent mental health. Screens and mobile phones mean that young people can struggle to keep the outside world - with all its social demands - at bay.

So it is no wonder that psychologists are encouraging us to make more time in our day to be idle. I was amazed to read the other day that my old boarding school plans to give pupils twice as long to walk between lessons and is even considering banning homework, in the interests of improving the girls' wellbeing. 

In the face of such evidence, I am beginning to think that dropping my phone down the loo has given me a rare chance to re-calibrate my daily routine. It is well documented that inspiration will often strike while the brain is ticking over in neutral. Don't get me wrong - I am desperate for my new phone to arrive - but, when it does, I will try to stop myself from poring over it at every opportunity. Instead, at various intervals, I shall lay myself open to the Muses and wait for my masterpiece to take shape...



FURTHER READING

In Praise of Idleness: And Other Essays by Bertrand Russell 
Philosopher Bertrand Russell believed the world was suffering from "the belief that vigorous action is admirable; whereas what is needed in our very complex modern society is calm consideration..."




To read about how young people should be able to use modern technology creatively, without being controlled by it, click here for my post about the iRights movement.