What Are You Doing?

What Are You Doing?

I saw a terrific post on Facebook recently. Now, truth be told, I’ve become less and less enamored of social media. Facebook and Twitter have devolved into havens for the angry, bitter and hateful to spew forth things they would never say out loud. But, occasionally, there are rare gems of wit and wisdom that have, so far, kept me from pulling the plug. One such example:

It is funny because, of course, it is true. Look around the next time you’re in Starbucks – or, indeed, any coffee house – and I’ll bet you a latte that you can count the number of people untethered to a device with one hand.

Truth is, this attachment to our devices is also pervasive beyond the walls of Starbucks. To wit: a few days ago, I picked up my children from school. I arrived a few minutes before the bell. It was a beautiful winter day. That is, winter in Southern California: cloudless blue skies and just warm enough to be outside without a jacket.

When I have a few such moments to kill (a term I genuinely dislike, by the way; our time is too finite to “kill”), I pull out my phone and noodle about, reading email, playing a game etc. For whatever reason, I chose to leave it in my pocket on this day and just take in my surroundings.

In addition to the natural beauty I’d not noticed before (a tree in the playground has these leaves with a most striking blend of yellow and green), I also bore witness to the plethora of devices around me. Some people assumed the position – heads down, shoulders rounded, serious and stern faced (have you noticed how few people smile as they use their phone?) – staring at their phone’s illuminated screen. Some pressed a phone to their ear, utilizing it in the more traditional manner. Still others, and perhaps most curiously, simply held their device in their hand, neither used nor put away in a pocket or purse, even as they conversed with their children or other adults.

For better or worse, we have become a people split between two worlds. There is the one which we, physically, inhabit, the “real” world, if you will. And there is the virtual one we are drawn to by the flashing lights and vibrations of the portal we hold in our hand. This is that one that also now takes precedence, as we frequently interrupt ourselves and others in the real world to attend to the virtual one. And no matter the importance of what it is we are doing in the real world, rare it is that we would turn off, silence or even simply put away the device that connects us to the virtual world, while simultaneously tearing us away from the real one.

I find that abundantly sad.

So I’ve decided to put forward a challenge for myself. On the wallpaper of my phone, I’ve stuck little (virtual) post-it note, inscribed with just these words: What Are You Doing? Before I use the phone, I must answer that question. This way, I am making an intentional, mindful decision to use my device for a purpose – check email, look something up, make a note, take a photo etc – instead of letting it use me.

Do you find yourself more present in the virtual world than the real one? Is your phone always at hand? What do you consider important enough in the real world to turn off your virtual one? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments!


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