Enough with the phubbing please!

“Fine Peruvian Cuisine” was the draw, so we entered Victoria’s new restaurant at 806 Lake Avenue on the main drag in Lake Worth, Florida, sat down and tried to figure out what we would eat in the rustic and spacious dining space.  I’m pretty sensitive to acoustics in any environment, and restaurants in particular, but it was very quiet, and I immediately figured out why.  A few feet away were four young tattooed people sitting together but gawking and tapping away on their cell phones. We on the other hand were being entertained by the young waiter who answered our numerous comments and questions about Aguadito, a cilantro-based soup with rice, green peas, carrots and diced potatoes, and Cevich de Pescado, a traditional sea bass ceviche cured in lime juice with red onions, cilantro, Peruvian corn and sweet potato glaze.  There was so much to learn from our waiter and to inquire about face-to-face.

I can’t get used to seeing people (young and old) walking down the street – literally in the street – not on the sidewalk – blindly being in the path of traffic, texting or just staring at their phone, sometimes laughing, oblivious to everything around them.  The cell phone has become an extension of the person. New mothers too, pushing their strollers, immersed on their phones, rather than child. I read somewhere (not on my phone, thank you) that Steve Jobs never intended this obsession with the phone, but obsession, or even addiction it is.  I don’t know if there are 12 step programs for phone addiction, but there could be.  This is 2019 and the immersion into the virtual world which started more than a decade ago is now a social norm for many people.

Logging onto the phone is the first thing that many people do upon waking, and holding onto the phone, for dear life, is the last thing performed before nodding off. I’ve been guilty of it myself.  I’m somewhat of a news junkie, and rationalize it by knowing we’re in an unusual Constitutional crisis mode.  We have a president who is questioned to be a Russian agent, one who sabotages the purposes and functions of the Federal government, one who is following alternative facts to declare an emergency that’s only an emergency in his warped mind. He’s in denial about climate change and is taking 325 million people of the USA hostages in his delusional world. He disparages the free press, acts like a crime boss, doesn’t read his intelligence briefings and takes advice from the like of the Kardashians and Sean Hannity.  (Hmmm, I wonder if it’s Kim or Kourtney or Khloe who doesn’t believe in climate change. Should I ask Siri?)

Is an obsession with my phone healthy?

There was an article in the Feb 23, 2019 New York Times, “How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain” by Kevin Roose which caught my eye.  He became aware of his own addiction and became more aware of how unnerving it is for him to be with the stillness, the quiet, the existential self untethered from his phone.  He took a 48 hour vacation from his phone. His wife reported that he immediately became more  attentive to her, less distracted and more present.  Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon of snubbing a person in favor of your phone: it’s called “phubbing”.  That’s what the diners at Victoria’s Peruvian Restaurant were doing.  Roose writes that “studies have shown that excessive phubbing decreases relationship satisfaction and contributes to feelings of depression and alienation”.  I bet the same feelings applies to tweeting.

Furthermore, he writes “under the right conditions, spending an entire weekend without a phone in your immediate vicinity is incredible. You have to try it.”.  Imagine no phone for 48 hours.  You. Alone. With yourself. In nature.

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who died in 2015, explains in a New Yorker essay “The Machine Stops” (published February 11, 2019) that the ubiquitous cell phone usage has caused us to “lose the sense of space …We have lost a part of ourselves …[and] we are dying”.  The Machine provides all comforts and meets all needs – except human contact.  Human contact is missing and the absence of this contact will effect the human being far into the future.

Sachs enjoyed nature; he was an avid bicyclist in his years, and both Sachs and Roose converge on the value and beauty that surrounds us, especially the sounds of silence. I believe silence has gotten a bad rap. I’ve grown to like the quiet, the tranquility that surrounds us, to contemplate life’s moments.  Meditation is now part of my morning routine, rather than immediately jumping into the Washington Post headlines or delving into the lead articles in today’s New York Times.  I do sometimes peak a look at Fox News to see what the other half of the country, or at least “the base” is viewing. But not too often; I don’t want to start the day depressed.  I discipline myself now.  I know that without my morning routine of meditation and self-care, I would lose some of my humanity and become numb to everything including my mind.







Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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