Not so many years ago, put ‘phones’ and ‘sex’ in the same sentence and you’d almost certainly be talking phone-sex. Recent studies suggest that our phone/sex dynamic has now headed off in quite the other direction, with phones becoming a real barrier to intimacy. Apparently we take our phones to bed and play with those rather than heading off to play with our partners.
The phone is a device invented with a view to creating more communication, and therefore one might assume, more intimacy. It all comes down to how you use it – true of so many things. If we use the phone to tap into facebook and twitter, as a substitute for having conversations, that’s our choice. A person does not have to go to parties and spend the whole time messing about with their phone. It isn’t compulsory. Equally, we can switch them off and go to bed.
Some jobs put employees under pressure to be available, and some of us have to be on call – that’s been true for far longer than there have been phones, when a bang on the door in the middle of the night was a given for some professions (doctors, smugglers etc). Most of us will not get a really important text in the middle of the night. Most of us do not need to be on standby in case someone is mortally wounded, or the big breakthrough comes through on the case, or the deal is about to break down. Most of our lives are far more ordinary than that, and most of our phone content is nothing more important than someone having posted a photo of a cute animal.
We can also play the game of imagining that some vital, important message could come in at any moment. Someone might need us. Something big may be happening. For most people, this is a total delusion. All the time we’re sat there twiddling with the internet and swapping banal messages, we are actually reducing our scope for having something important come into our lives. But then, maybe that’s the point. The imaginary important message is perfectly safe, because it won’t turn up and require us to do anything. Stepping up to real situations so that we might have to act, is a good deal more demanding.
And yet we cling to our phones.
The phone is a lot easier than real human interaction. It’s not quite as immediate, giving you more scope for thinking about how you want to appear. It’s easier to be rude and unpleasant with no comebacks. And most of what you get online is irrelevant, which also means its emotionally safe and has no impact on your life. Doing real things with real people is as loaded with danger as it is with possibility, and perhaps it is fear of the risks that has us preferring to turn on the device, than get turned on. Real intimacy, with actual people; be that emotional, intellectual or physical, takes effort to do well. You have to be present and paying attention. You need to care. No phone will ever ask that of you, and therefore there is no scope for failure.
Using tools in a measured and considered way to get stuff done has been key to human progress ever since we picked up our first stick, back in the dawn of time, and started poking things with it. However, when using the tools becomes an end in its own right, not a means, we have lost our way. There are better things to play with in bed than mobile phones.