The dark truth is that it’s become very hard to find anyone (and certainly anything) more interesting than one’s smartphone.
This perplexing and troubling realization has for most of us had huge consequences for our love stories, family lives, work, leisure time and health.This is a text that aims to bring a little sanity to our closest, most intense and possibly most danger-laden technological relationship.
To say we are addicted to our phones is not merely to point out that we use them a lot. It signals a darker notion: that we use them to keep our own selves at bay. Because of our phones, we may find ourselves incapable of sitting alone in a room with our own thoughts floating freely in our own heads, daring to wander into the past and the future, allowing ourselves to feel pain, desire, regret and excitement. We are addicted to our phones not because we rely on them, but to the extent that we recruit them to a harmful project of self-avoidance.
2. Our phones and our relationships
In principle, we love family life and are very keen on and devoted to relationships. But, obviously, the reality is tricky. The wonderful things are mixed up with a lot that is awkward and frustrating. Our partner isn’t quite as sympathetic as we’d ideally like; our family is more conflicted and challenging than feels fair or reasonable. Our phone, however, is docile, responsive to our touch, always ready to spring to life and willing to do whatever we want. Its malleability provides the perfect excuse for disengagement from the trickier aspects of other people.
It’s so tempting to press the screen when one’s partner launches into an account of their day or their theory of ideal fridge management. The details of their existence and their hopes for our shared domestic life cannot compete with information about the most expensive apartment currently on sale in Manhattan or the diet of Mymains Stewart Gilligan (the largest pet cat in the world).
We can, it seems, hook up so easily. There are millions of people out there. It shouldn’t be hard to find the right one – if only we sign up to the right site. We become monsters of our hopes: any person we have met is judged against those we haven’t ever met. Of course, none of the people we do meet through our phones is in fact ever quite right. So we go back to the search and redouble our efforts.
The task of love can’t be to locate some mythical ‘right person’. Compatibility is an achievement of love, it can’t be its precondition. This is a truth that our phone, as yet, doesn’t want to teach us. It promises to locate someone who likes eating cheese, wants to wear a rubber mask and lives within a ten mile radius of Sevenoaks. But it cannot, as yet, help us with the real challenge of love: which is to extend sympathy and understanding to human frailty.
Our phones seem to deliver the world directly to us. Yet (without our noticing) they often limit the things we actually pay attention to. As we look down towards our palms we don’t realize we are forgetting: