On any given day, have a look around — zombies are everywhere. No, it’s not Halloween quite yet, but have our cell phones and other mobile devices turned us into mindless drones?
During Thanksgiving long weekend, I was waiting at the BC Ferries terminal coming back from a trip to the Mainland. Everywhere I looked, twenty-somethings and younger were walking with their heads down, narrowly avoiding mid-hallway collisions while fixated on the glowing screens of their iPhones, iPods, iPads and the occasional BlackBerry.
According to a report from the American-based Kaiser Family Foundation last year, the increase in cell phone ownership for 8 to 18-year-olds jumped from 39 to 66 per cent in five years. For MP3 players and the like, it went from 18 per cent to 76 per cent.
Going hand-in-hand, Internet use is also on the rise — a Statistics Canada survey says 80 per cent of Canadians aged 16 and older used the Internet for personal reasons in 2009. Victoria had the honour of being one of the Canadian cities with the highest use rates at 86 per cent.
I am by no means innocent in the matter. in fact I have, at one point or another, probably owned almost every modern Apple product created. My iPhone 3GS is the last thing I see before I go to sleep (ensuring it’s plugged in because there’s nothing conceivably worse than heading out to face the day with a dead phone) and the first thing I see when I wake up (fervently checking for new emails and “LOL”-filled text messages).
Maybe it’s because in this era of immediacy, we are trained to feel we always have to be in the know: to know exactly when and where something is happening, the second it happens (try taking yourself off Facebook for a month and see how many missed birthday parties and housewarmings ensue).
In the spirit of healthy experimentation, I decided to see what life would be like for 48 hours with no personal cell phone or Internet access.
In the morning, my hand instinctively reached out for the turned-off iPhone on my desk at home before leaving for work. I stopped myself, gave it one last longing look, and left.
Luckily it was an extraordinarily busy and long day at work, and I didn’t have much of a chance to miss my cell. The only visible symptoms were a subconscious darting of my eyes trying to locate the missing device, and restless fingers likely due to texting withdrawal.
At home, things were slightly easier. I was fortunate to have other distractions to take my mind off my phone, namely television. I wasn’t about to cut that out too — after all, I was curious, not crazy.
The only time my old habits kicked in during the morning was when I was about to look up a phone number on my cell that I needed to call. I realized without it, I wouldn’t be able to get a hold of anyone besides a handful of friends whose house numbers I memorized as a child.
As the afternoon wore on at the office, there was a certain calm that fell over me. Knowing my phone was out of reach, I didn’t have the urge to constantly check it (during breaks, of course) for updates. I became more focused at work and was able to free my mind for more productive thoughts, like what to make for dinner.
At night, I barely gave my iPhone a second thought and I even did a little light reading. The lesson I learned is that almost anyone — at least those that weren’t born in the Internet generation — should be capable of weaning themselves off these self-imposed shackles of modern society.
Mere hours later, however, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief as I saw the silver apple logo flicker to life on the 3.5-inch touchscreen.
Benjamin Yong is the news reporter for the Sooke News Mirror