I’m sitting with a friend at a cafe. She’s got her smartphone on the table between us, and I can tell she isn’t really paying attention to our conversation because of the way she’s twitching. She’s got it on silent mode, but her eyes keep flicking to the phone, then up to mine, and I can tell she’s itching to see who just sent her a message. And I’m thinking, why am I here? Why can’t she just turn the bloody thing off for an hour or so? Why is she behaving like an addict who’s desperate for a fix?
Of course, she is an addict. Most people who own smartphones are. It’s got to be there all the time, on all the time, making them available all the time. Not having it there, not having it on, not being available, makes people feel naked, vulnerable, cut off, antsy. It also makes them very bad company.
I see people out for runs or walks with their phones strapped to their arms or glued to their ears—one man was receiving a constant flow of directions from his phone’s GPS, which was very funny considering that the road running past where we live is the only one at this end of the island. Maybe he felt less alone that way? And is that the crux of the problem with smartphone addiction, that people are frightened on some basic level to be alone for a little while?
I once tried to get a signature on an anti-5G appeal from a local dentist. He was appalled at the idea of giving up wireless technology. “But how would we live?” he wailed. How indeed? Yet there is life beyond the smartphone, and it is fuller and richer than life with a smartphone. It just takes a little getting used to.
Being on your own is nice. It’s peaceful. You have time to really think about things without being interrupted—after all, most things that people want to consult you on can wait. When you aren’t being interrupted every few seconds, you have time to notice the colors of flowers, the shape of trees, the quality of the light, listen to birdsong (can you identify which bird is singing?) and feel the wind in your hair. This is your time when no one can demand anything from you, a time when you can renew your energies so you have something to give when others really do need you. It’s insane to be on call every minute of the day and night, unless you’re the leader of a country or a doctor who’s on shift.
Being without a mobile device—smartphone, cellphone, whatever—allows you to concentrate on what you’re doing, and to do it well. How do you hold on to a train of thought if you’re being constantly interrupted? How do you drive your car without getting into an accident, or write a report, or prepare dinner, or even walk your dog, if you can’t focus on the task at hand? A man I know was horribly upset when his dog died from eating poison when he took it for a walk in the neighborhood, and went around for days swearing vengeance on whoever had done it. The fact, though, was that he never looked up when he walked his dog, because he always had his smartphone in his hand and he was always texting or looking online and not paying the slightest attention to what the dog did. He wasn’t concentrating, and his dog paid the price. I have also read of cases where children drowned because their parents were too busy on their smartphones to notice.
Life without a smartphone—or any mobile phone—would indeed be different. But there’s this marvelous invention that’s called an answering machine, which means people can leave messages for you and you can ring them back when you get home. And if you need to make a call when you are out, there are phone booths—admittedly fewer than there used to be, but if people didn’t have mobile phones the telephone companies would have to install more of them because there would be a demand.
One problem people always bring up when I suggest dumping their mobile phones is that they need them to keep track of their children, who also have smartphones—but that too can be managed, with a bit of planning (my parents always insisted on knowing where I was going to be and on a number they could call if I was at a friend’s). What is the bigger danger to a child anyway, being out of touch with Mom for a few hours, or being constantly irradiated by that dangerous device in a pocket next to the body? Parents coped before the mobile phone; they can cope now. Besides, who knows what devilment a child can get into with an internet-capable device and no supervision? Smartphones are dangerous in more ways than one.
Yes, it is convenient to be able to reach anyone, at any time—the plumber, when you need him. Yes, it is comforting to think that if you get in an accident of some sort in the back of beyond that you can summon help. But the price of this convenience is overwhelming, beyond the subscription costs. The price is the accidents they cause; ask any emergency room doctor how many people have been maimed or died from distracted driving. The price is cell towers everywhere, and illness, and damage to nature. The price is lack of privacy, as you are being tracked everywhere, and every call can be listened to, and every time you go online data is gathered, and every email you write can be read. And the price is 5G, and then 6G, and eventually 7G (should the planet survive so long) because like a shark, Big Wireless has to keep moving forward or it will die. The price is your health, your children’s health, and the planet’s health. Is it really worth it?
There really is life beyond the smartphone, beyond wireless technology, beyond the internet. Turn your device off. Go take a walk. Look—really look. Think abut your priorities. Because the only way we are going to stop 5G is to stop being dependent on wireless devices—all of them.