In Guelph, Ontario, a family has committed themselves to not using any technology invented after 1986.
For one year, they won't use, nor allow their kids to use, most of the devices we take for granted: smartphones, GPS devices, computers. The Toronto Sun profiled them, and the heart of the article is this reverential portrait of Technology Back Was When it Was Benign:
They do their banking in person instead of online. They develop rolls of film for $20 each instead of Instagramming their sons’ antics ...Instead of a TV, the minimally furnished living room – which looks like a floor model plan from a vintage store – has a large centered window that looks out onto the leafy neighbourhood. A book shelf rests in one corner and a bright pink cassette player sits on top of a wooden trunk.
It feels like we're living in moment of sharper-than-usual nostalgia for pre-Internet life. Take also the extremely viral I Forgot my Phone video that's been passed around the past couple weeks.
It's not super hard to suss out the chord it's striking. A bunch of scenes of people using their phones in rude, jerk-y ways: At a concert! While kissing on the beach! While their friends are bowling!
The video's twenty million plus views suggest that most human beings agree with the underlying sentiment here, which is that we should disconnect from our devices and try to live in the moment and enjoy more face-to-face, uninterrupted human connection. It's a hard sentiment to disagree with, which is why I was surprised to find myself feeling aggravated by it.
The video feels unfair the same way advertisements often feel unfair. It's not that it's wrong on its surface, but there's some underlying message that you have to articulate before you can even disagree with it. But for starters, it'd be nice if we could acknowledge that our devices don't compel us to stare at them. In fact, there's an entire etiquette around how and when to use a mobile device, and the people who eschew that etiquette are rude. If your peers use their phones rudely, stop hanging out with them! And certainly, if you find yourself, like the protagonist of I Forgot My Phone, with a boyfriend who quietly stares at his iPhone while you're in bed with him, chastise and/or dump him. It seems disingenuous to blame technology for the ways people use it.
Nathan Jurgenson, who writes about humans and technology really well, summed up the underlying premise that I think is so crazy-making here.
This isn’t about the problems of digital connection, it’s about propping oneself up as more human and alive. By identifying with and sharing the video, we can put ourselves in the protagonist’s shoes. I too recognize this! I am human and deep and carpe diem. But let’s consider the implication of showing others as robots who don’t live in the moment: you are basically saying they are less human in order to assert how above the unthinking-cellphone-zombie masses you are. Human connection, togetherness, and in-the-moment experience isn’t going away, indeed, we cherish it more than ever. Rad. But, then, more than that, we’ve become obsessed with it, treating the real as a fetish object, all in the name of appealing to the deeply conservative impulse to rank who is more or less human.