I spend far too much time reading popular fiction, specifically Stephen King. I’m not ashamed of it. At the end of break I was reading one of his novellas called “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” (they made a Netflix movie recently about the same story.) Near the end of the novella, King writes:
“In the twenty-first century, I think our phones are how we are wedded to the world. If so, it’s probably a bad marriage.” And I agree.
This past winter break was the longest continuous time I’ve spent with my family since the days of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. This meant one delightful thing: my life moved so much more slowly than it had during the semester. But I quickly learned how my phone sought to disrupt that slow peace.
During the holidays, I found myself fighting the impulse to check my phone when I was with my family. Scrolling news apps, texting or looking things up in idle moments for no real reason. I heard a nagging voice in my mind that asked, “Why? What would I find there that was so demanding that I couldn’t talk with a Texas-dwelling family member whom I only see once or twice a year?” This was, of course, very dramatic. After the initial guilt subsided I noticed that this wasn’t just a me problem: everyone in the room was doing it. Neck bent, thumb scrolling. It’s become a default setting for us: when we’re not doing something, talking to someone or stimulated in any way, we whip the phone out.
Before you accuse me of being a Luddite or some kind of trendy derivation of one, hear me out: I don’t think we need to throw our phones away. Like King wrote, we’re at the point where we need them, or are at least bindingly attached to them. This is not necessarily a bad thing. At no other time in history have humans been more able to connect with each other, to keep track of their work and school. As an athlete on the football team, I am constantly up to date on an ever-changing schedule for workouts and meetings. All of those things are really helpful, but it also means that my life would be far less productive – and maybe I’d be a little selfish – if I got rid of my iPhone. Today, we owe each other the level of connectivity that a smartphone offers because a high level of connection is the norm.
It has become a romanticized idea to throw away the phone in order to properly experience reality. That’s a nice idea, but we’re at a point where we’re locked in and can’t operate well without them. I don’t think that gives us license to lean into the blue-light abyss and average six hours of screen time a day. I do think it’s a good challenge for us to fight for connection, to wrestle our phones back into their pockets where they should be, and to treat them how they ought to be treated: as tools we use to make our lives easier.
Us and phones are ultimately a bad marriage, probably because we should never have grown as reliant on them as we are. Maybe an amicable divorce is in order, perhaps that’s what it takes to remind ourselves that we don’t need our phones as much as we need intentional and real connection with other people.
I’m not sure any technological advancement will change that.