The tyrant in your pocket

By Caitlin Kelly


Not my words, but powerful ones, from The New York Times‘ writer Ross Douthat, on our addiction to smartphones, tablets and digital interaction:

Used within reasonable limits, of course, these devices also offer us new graces. But we are not using them within reasonable limits. They are the masters; we are not. They are built to addict us, as the social psychologist Adam Alter’s new book “Irresistible” points out — and to madden us, distract us, arouse us and deceive us. We primp and perform for them as for a lover; we surrender our privacy to their demands; we wait on tenterhooks for every “like.” The smartphone is in the saddle, and it rides mankind.

Which is why we need a social and political movement — digital temperance, if you will — to take back some control.

I know, I know…how else could you be reading this, except on a device?

So, of course, I want you here and I want your attention (hey, over here!) and I want you to keep coming back for more.

But I agree with him that life spent only attached to a screen is a miserable existence:

It’s dangerous

American car accident rates are much higher now than a few years ago, due to drivers texting while behind the wheel.

It’s distracting

People walk into the street, into objects and into other human beings because they refuse to pay attention to where they are in the real world, aka meatspace.

It’s alienating

For all the connection it brings, staying tech-tethered also distances us from the people and experiences all around us.

It’s rude

The worst!

It may be a sign of my generation, or my friends, but when I’m with someone in a social setting, like dinner or coffee or just a chat, we aren’t looking at our phones.

On a recent week’s vacation, breaking my normal routines, I stayed off my phone and computer — and took photos, read books and magazines (on paper), ate, slept, shopped, walked, exercised, talked to friends.

Do I care if everyone else “likes” my life?

Not really.

If I like it, I’m fine.

Do you take technology sabbaths and turn off or put away all your digital devices?

27 thoughts on “The tyrant in your pocket

  1. Yes, Caitlyn, I take breaks from devices. I take mental health breaks from dealing with technical difficulties. Too many around the same time can be frustrating so I just let it all go and relax. I still read quite a few hard copy books. I know what to do to stay entertained or occupied when the power goes out.

    It has definitely been a challenge to get face time with the people I want to have a real-time interaction with due to various reasons. People are still interested in getting together socially offline, fortunately.

    1. Caitlin with an I, please — thanks!

      Smart move, Larita…I’m also old school enough to still read 90% of my media on paper. I really need to give my hands and eyes a break, since, like most of us now, I spend my work days at a screen and keyboard.

  2. i think it’s a good thing to take a break occasionally, i admit it’s hard for me, as i love to keep in touch, but it is a demanding monster at times.

  3. Love the title of this post! Two years ago I got a Fitbit (fitness tracker) for my birthday. Wearing technology on my wrist felt like digital slavery. The thing was constantly requiring attention: buzzing to alert me that I had walked X thousand steps, needing to be recharged, toggled with the computer, etc. After a few months it went in a drawer. I love my social media but it’s a bit like sugar or alcohol – you have to limit your consumption to stay well.

    1. I try to pretend they’re not, since someone is bound to kill me in so doing.

      I have noticed — and I honk LOUDLY at them every time — that no one accelerates out of a red light into a green, as traffic requires. They’re all looking at their damn phones.

  4. I don’t own a smartphone. I have a cheap, simple, flip-up phone (flip phone?) called Logicom or something, that I paid 39 euros for. It’s often turned off. For security reasons we cannot access our private email accounts at the office, so the only time I can blog or read my emails is when I’m at home, like right now. (Friday night, sitting cross-legged on my bed, glass of red wine at my side, laptop on my lap.)

    This is a conscious decision, of course. Because I view beeps and ringing as an irritant, an intrusion. But it’s also the decision of a single gal with no kids. If I had a family, things would be different.

    And when I travel I take nothing with me (no devices.) Just old-fashioned books and maps. It’s a choice.

    1. It’s true that many people are 100% tethered to their phones. I don’t want to be “in touch” all the time! I never did.

      While traveling this summer, much of it alone, I will take a tablet (for email and blogging); not sure yet that I want to be bothered with a phone.

  5. I try to put away my phone a couple of hours before I go to bed so that I can let my brain start winding down. I learned a long time ago I have a hard time going to sleep if I see an email that stresses or annoys me right before bedtime. I use my phone for work, as well as reading most of my news through the newspaper apps on my phone, so it’s hard to let go of it for long periods of time otherwise. I do have a rule that I don’t respond to emails during weekends unless it is an emergency situation. And I agree with you – if I’m with other people, having coffee or dinner or just having a conversation, I put the phone away so that I’m not distracted.

    1. So true!

      I think it’s terrible to have these things on at night — and I follow Twitter so if there’s awful news, I’d be seeing it. So I don’t, either, at bedtime.

      I wonder if it’s generational — but only one person I know even glances at their phone when I’m with her.

  6. Jane

    Last weekend we went away to a gorgeous resort with my best friend & her husband to celebrate her 50th. Well, they were on there phones what seemed to be the whole time. There was one situation with their teen son not being home at an agreed time which resulted in a slew of text messages and phone calls, which was appropriate use of their phones, however the rest of the time I have no idea what they were doing on their devices.

    I consciously left my phone in my room. We were having a holiday which, to me, means leave your phone in your room unless you’re leaving the resort. It was very frustrating to the point where I actually commented about their behaviour. I felt they weren’t fully present with us due to the lure of their phones.

  7. Devices are essential for my work. I couldn’t proofread or edit for clients without a computer, although I do all my proofreading on old-fashioned paper (can’t proofread on screen. It makes my eyes tired and it’s easier to skim past errors). So, I sit in front of a screen during my working week. At weekends I use my device for enjoyable pastimes like blogging, reading other people’s blogs and interesting articles on the internet.

    I probably should take more breaks from devices, and it annoys me if I’m out with friends and they’re constantly checking their phones. Be sociable, not rude, for goodness’ sake!

    I can’t believe that using a phone behind the wheel is legal in many U.S. states. It’s crazy! It’s illegal here and the penalty was recently increased, but I still see people doing it. *frown*

    I was a late convert to a smartphone. I must say, it’s incredibly handy for working on the go (emails etc.) and I love being able to use Google Maps when I’m in an unfamiliar city. Good for WhatsApp too — free messaging app which works via WiFi. It means that it’s easy and free for me to keep in touch with my friends in other countries.

    I’m looking forward to unplugging during my two-week holiday in the remote west of Scotland this summer. 🙂

  8. I’m old school – I have a desktop, and I use that for all my online stuff. I have a simple mobile that will do calls and texts and is used for emergencies only. Which makes it easy to define my online time and step away from it. it can be easy to feel that you’ve got to be available to everyone all the time, and that’s hard to resist… but well worth resisting!

    1. So true! My husband keep insisting I upgrade to a smartphone but I’m very happy with what I have now — it’s not a flip-phone but I hate the tech arms race to be bigger/faster/newer. We both have laptops which I tend to use just for the mobility and he’s the one who’s forever upgrading.

      I find it really sad and dull now — in any public space, when people might once (!) have chatted with one another, even made a new friend, everyone is starting silently into their phones as if they are THE MOST IMPORTANT thing. Which I find hard to imagine.

  9. I find I need days without technology or I get quite muddled and cranky. And I am on tech for work so very much, that I try to just be in the physical world on the weekends. We all should . . .

  10. I don’t take technology sabbaths because my mobile enables​ me to make a living, and the work is a daily demand. But because so much of my work is a) device related b) social media related, it’s easier for me to distance myself from the social pressures than most (?) people out there… Or so it seems, anyway, according to the news. Not being emotionally beholden to the world inside the screen is a blessing!

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