On the 4th of July last year, I gathered down at the Hudson River with thousands of others to watch one of the most celebrated fireworks displays in the world. As the fireworks crackled, crunched, rustled and dissolved into the night sky, I looked at a man in front of me.
He was only about my age and he was recording all of this on his smartphone. He held what I’m assuming was his most prized possession up like a trophy and watched through its tiny 4 inch screen, as the fireworks continued to enthral, inventing colours and shapes and at times reaching out to the audience like a mighty claw before retreating back into the darkness.
It was quite a sight.
But I began watching this fella in front of me, to see if he ever took his eyes off the little movie he was making, to appreciate the actual spectacle. He never did. He moved the camera around and he zoomed in and out, as diligently and as analytically as the great Steven Spielberg, but he never put the phone down.
I’m sure he posted the video on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and whatever else he could. I’m sure his friends liked and commented on it. I’m sure they said it was amazing, asked what it was like to be there. And I’m sure he gushed about it, saying it was ‘awesome’, blissfully unaware that he only seen as much as his friends did.
I look back now and I feel like a bigger eejit than him, because I spent most of the fireworks display looking at his screen too to see if he ever put the damn thing down!
They say evolution happens slowly but there has been a mammoth exception to the rule in the past 5 years. The chart shows us come from apes, hunched over to the point of smelling the ground. But our backs straightened up and we walked strong and confident as man.....but now we are looking down at something in our hands. And we are beginning to hunch over again.
People nowadays have two identities.
I first noticed this back in Ireland.
How many times have you met someone in person and remarked how quiet they are before going on Facebook or Twitter to read loud, boisterous comments about something or other and seen another side to them? Pictures show them in outrageous situations, and they paint further pictures of themselves as confident, outgoing people.
Which is fine. Quiet people have an outlet, time to think about what they want to say, it’s a good thing.
Sometimes though, people spend too much time in cyber space and unwittingly get lobotomised there, to the point where real life becomes a test. And this is when the phones grow like cancer into their hands.
It becomes a comfort to have this other world that they can teleport to right there in their reach. They don’t realise that their comfort is also their crutch.
As with everything, I saw a lot more of this in America.
Working in the bar, I would see groups of people come in at times and not say a word to each other as they all looked at their phones.
I was once asked by a group of girls to take a photo of them. I took the same photo six times before they all agreed on one where they all looked like models. I then heard them prattling on about a caption to go with the photo. Pictures were taken of their drinks. Further pictures were taken of themselves and ‘random strangers’. They then returned to the bar where most of them retreated back to their phones.
They framed their own event excellently. And I’m sure most people looking at the photos would think they were having a great night. But all I saw was a couple of girls taking pictures and texting.
Nowadays, this is the norm. We all have our own websites. We are all celebrities and paparazzi in equal measure.
Pictures are taken more than words are spoken. We need to say to our cyber friends....’look at this....look at what I’m doing’! We don’t realise that we are not actually doing anything.
Going to the bathroom in bars and restaurants has become a glorious celebration for some girls, one akin to a wedding, graduation, debs or prom. Endless pictures are taken and retaken in front of the mirror, until the pout look is perfected. Statuses are updated. Likes pour out on the internet rewarding their vanity.
Smart phones have also affected manners. I have talked to some people without a response for a full minute as they used their thumb to scroll through something more interesting on their phones. I always think of that scrolling thumb as a symbolic middle finger. The celebrity comes out in them, no time to talk to the little man, they have to tweet to their audience.
It has affected friendships too. When some people are in cyberspace, they talk in the cyber vernacular, which is using links to direct people to funny and shocking videos or websites. Like archaeologists, they search through the internet until they find something provocative to share. They then post it and take credit for their find. This is the way some people talk. Their friendships are based in cyberspace, and don’t spawn from personal conversations, but from videos and websites.
Loves have also been lost with this cancerous growth of the hands. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but how can we say that now since people are not afforded the opportunity to be absent?
We are always present, we have no excuse to get away...we can be reached by email, facebook, twitter, text, voxer and viber. Courting couples can get sick of each other before they even meet!
I keep wanting to go back to that man on the Hudson last year and tear the phone out of his hand and tell him there is a better world out there, hold his head and make him watch the fireworks and not tell anybody what he sees.
But who am I to talk? I bought my first Smart Phone two weeks ago. The saleswoman said that with emails, a good camera, skype, video recorder, and internet, my life would be so much easier. And I suppose it has been easier.
But last night I watched The Commitments, a classic Irish movie from the eighties, a time when phones were as big as pizzas and the internet was still largely an embryonic rumour. I saw people running around, talking, arguing, laughing, joking, fighting, using their own experiences as a method of growing. They didn’t have all that we have today but they seemed more alive, and a question popped into my head.
Were things so much easier when things were so much harder?