Time to put the phone away

Interact with your surroundings

By Aidan Mouellic, Staff Writer

People tell me that magic isn’t real, but they’re wrong. Chances are you have a device in your pocket that can play songs, display movies, send email, and make video calls. Smartphones are little pieces of magic that we all take for granted. How the miniature rectangles of glass and metal are able to do what they do is beyond me; it’s likely witchcraft, and it’s amazing. I’m constantly blown away by what we’re capable of doing with computers these days. It’s mind-boggling how much better humans are than any other animal on Earth.

I’m also constantly blown away by how pathetically anti-social technology has made us. I take the SkyTrain frequently, and the times when I don’t fall asleep, I imagine that it would be nice to have a conversation with the people sitting around me. Lately though, it’s been nearly impossible to do that since the majority of train-users are plugged into their earphones, texting, or laughing to themselves while watching cat videos. Trains and buses are communal places where we used to be able to see what books people were reading, or start discussions with others about how the graffiti on the backs of seats is becoming less and less creative.

This anti-social shift in society is rather new. Though it feels as if smartphones and tablets have been a mainstay in our lives forever, the first iPhone only came out in 2007 and the first Android phone came out in 2008—not that long ago. Yet in the time since then, we’ve become consumed by these devices, and it’s only getting worse. I’m not anti-smartphones. We just need to be aware of how we use them.

When used right, technology can bring the world together. Skype video calling allows distant relatives to see each other more frequently, email boosts the Nigerian economy, and Twitter allows the famous to be harassed by the masses. But most of us are getting too dependent on our devices. Every lull in the day is an opportunity to check our phones and tune out of the world. The very devices that are supposed to make us more connected to the world are making us less connected to the people around us. If you want to be entertained while away from your home, keep your eyes on your surroundings and off the screen in your lap. The characters on the streets of Vancouver are more interesting than the 140 characters in your tweets. As magical as our devices are and as fun as it is to get to the next level of Angry Birds, not much is better than meeting a new person who you enjoy talking to.

We are a social species, and creating meaningful connections is crucial to maintaining not only our mental health but also the general health of society. I urge you on your next SkyTrain or bus trip to take the headphones off, put the smartphone away, and just look around the car and try to make eye contact with others. If we all did this once a day, then perhaps we might meet someone new or make others feel more welcome in the community. Let’s make Vancouver less anti-social. It all starts with being ready and it means unplugging and entering reality.