At a friend’s party not long ago, I witnessed what is fast becoming a familiar scene. Seated around an outside table on a glorious starlit evening, guests were mesmerized not by each other’s company or by the host’s fine barbecue or by the wonderful fall weather. No. They were fascinated by their blinking screens.
Unusual? Hardly. Stroll the mall, ride the Metrorail, sit for a minute in any public place, and you’ll discover people glued to their cells. Come to think of it, glued may not be the most accurate term. More like trapped. Knotted. Roped. Trussed.
Cellphones, smartphones expecially, are the 21st century’s blankie. The nifty little device that offers instant communication with far-flung loved ones also serves as savior of awkward social situations. There’s nothing like a ring to rescue you from the office bore. In fact, it proves far better than the blank stare, the look-away, the shoulder shrug, or the mute nod.
But of course for me the cellphone is much more than all that. It organizes my life, keeps track of family birthdays, reminds me of pending projects and allows me to be a button away from my grandchildren. In relying on it for so much, however, the darn thing has become an addiction, as ostensibly necessary to my well-being as my morning ritual of a cup o’ joe and two — only two! — pieces of Dove dark chocolate.
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I’m as dependent as any fanatic. My phone is never more than arm’s length away. It charges overnight on my night stand, which means that it is the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I touch before crawling into bed. I check my social media streams when I’m out on the town and text in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices. When the battery winds down too quickly, as it’s wont to do with the new operating system, I get frantic. And I’ve been known to sneak a peek at my email in the bathroom — as if anything were so urgent to demand immediate action.
Just as I admitted to this compulsion, recognizing how the pings and vibrations were nibbling away at my attention span, I read about a new report confirming the condition that will one day, I’m sure, be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In a study of college students, Baylor University researchers found that women spent a whopping average of 10 hours per day and men nearly eight on their electronic devices. Sixty percent admit to addiction, saying they feel agitated when their phone is not in their sight. I get it. I really, truly get it.
“We need to identify the activities that push cellphone use from being a helpful tool to one that undermines our well-being and that of others,” concludes Baylor researcher James Roberts.
No kidding. Previous studies have shown a correlation between high anxiety levels and heavy cellphone use. In fact, our addiction has become such a part of modern life that a London-based photographer, Babycakes Romero, has documented it in a series he calls “The Death of Conversation.”
So, fine, I’ve taken the first step in recovery: admission. Now how to extricate myself from this bondage? Draw up no cell zones? Prohibit use during certain social functions? Check for messages, texts and social media updates only during prescribed times? But wait, if I regulate, does that mean I can’t excuse myself with “I gotta get that,” when The Hubby is ranting about the Miami Dolphins?
Help, Miss Manners, help.