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Calling out screen time

By Charley Martin

Are we switched on to the true cost of our phones?


We no longer live our lives to the beat of a diurnal drum. Constant access to social and work networks, banking, shopping and information has changed the way we live and the ‘working hour’ has been voided by the 24/7 availability of services. The convenience of the internet via mobile devices has blurred the lines between professional time, and private time. Whilst it’s not true to say that we’re constantly ‘on’ for 24 hours, these services are nonetheless available to us all the time should we wish to use them. Our mobile phones no longer have the dominant function of being a telephone, but as a so-called ‘smart’ portable device which means we’re in a perpetual state of consumption, communication and always contactable. Bizarrely we use the very same gestures to manage our finances, work and shop, as we do to socialise – I suspect Charlie Brooker would view this as a grotesque metaphor for the commercialisation of our private lives.


The social life model which existed pre-2007* has atrophied; our relationships have grossly morphed into digital messages. Mobiles are becoming less of a hand-held device, than a macabre extension of our arms and we’ve come to rely on instant access, quickly irritated by the shortest of delays, and infuriated by those three little words we all dread… ‘no internet connection’. Time is money people! We regard any time we’re not clicking, communicating or consuming as wasted. Take your morning commute – how many people do you see without a phone in their hands? Most of the people in car three of the Jubilee line every morning are glued to their screens, which not only act as a physical barrier separating us from the real world, but also serve to impoverish our senses. Shout out to the man so engrossed in his Instagram profile that he missed the ‘Southwark station is shut’ announcement – poor bloke must have had a shocker running to that 9am call from London Bridge.


Time spent ‘socialising’ on messaging services means we forfeit opportunities for genuine social interaction. People born in the last 20 years have grown up in a screen-obsessed milieu, where interaction predominantly exists online. Are you really anybody unless you have an up-to-date social profile, or let’s be honest, several? The digital facade allows us opportunity to preen and polish bits we don't like, presenting an edited version of ourselves to the public, but never truly the whole picture. We’ve all seen groups out together completely ignoring their present physical company and instead fully engaged in desultory electronic swiping. Or else, compromising their time together by the seemingly irrepressible need to document the evening through the medium of photography. The infinity of content available to us via our phones, means that there will always be the illusion of something much more engaging online than what’s going on around us. But someone picking up their phone to check their notifications is the gestic equivalent of saying ‘I’m bored by your company.’


So what’s the point of my phone-related rant? Let's look up. Let’s talk via real face time. Let's not hide behind digital profiles. We shouldn’t feel the need to document a night out to show people we were out, just remember it for a night we were having too much fun to remember to take pictures. Just because digital evidence of an experience doesn't exist, it doesn't mean it didn't happen. Most careers in the 21st Century will have us largely engaged in screen-time, so let’s not let that creep into our private time as well.


Undoubtedly there are many wonderful things which quick access to the internet provide, but I just hope we don't become a society ruined by improvements.



 *the year our favourite fruit-branded phone launched in the UK.