I cringe when I go somewhere and see everyone staring at their phones. Oddly, it reminds me of this one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode I’m thinking of shows up in season 5. It came out in 1991, and is titled “The Game.” In it, Wesley comes back to the Enterprise after a vacation to find the crew acting like a bunch of zombies. It’s because they’re all so absorbed in an addictive electronic game. Here’s a link to the trailer:
I have always loved this episode! Also, when cellphones first started to become more of a thing, I found myself thinking back to it a lot. Retroactively, I saw it as a bit of forewarning. But then, I also thought that we wouldn’t really lose ourselves to our electronic devices. I thought we’d notice how distracted it was making us before it got too late. We’d realize that we all look stupid and collectively resolve NOT to gaze into our screens slack-jawed and thirsting only to be mindlessly entertained. I guess I had just hoped that something would come along and “Wesley Crusher” us out of the whole crisis. But no, people go even more places now staring at their phones. They just can’t get enough.
That “can’t get enough” thing really isn’t surprising. Your phone is made to be addictive. People are being paid lots and lots of money to make sure that your phone is as addictive as possible. It’s a colourful explosion of entertainment, and it’s constantly right there, at arm’s length, begging you to indulge.
And we all like to indulge. Society does very little to help us control this urge. The attitude of “I work hard, I deserve it,” is highly prevalent, and it affects us whether we’re talking about material goods, calorie-laden foods or screen time. It’s incredibly tempting to waste what little truly “free” time you have playing on your phone. You want to take a little break, so you turn on a screen. 4 hours later, you’re stuck wondering where the time went.
I get it. I really do. Like I said, phones and other electronics are designed to be addictive, and I have definitely found myself hours deep down a YouTube rabbit hole once or twice. I’m guilty of using electronics as a numbing agent…as a source of distraction from the real world, even though it’s a tendency that really grosses me out.
So, I try to take steps to curb my phone use, and aim for responsible parameters. I have an app on my phone that blocks my access to some other apps (eg. YouTube, Facebook) at certain times. I turn my phone off at night. I try to be aware of how much time I’m spending. Sometimes I still mess up.
I’ve noticed something though…my brain goes haywire in silence. It replays an often-surprising assortment of music. I have weird, unexpected thoughts. Associations between things come to me out of nowhere. It isn’t anything like the instant pleasure of a glowing screen, but silence is the easiest way to get to the good stuff in your mind.
What a strange world this is. Any spare moment without some kind of buzzing, whirring entertainment happening is practically a rare jewel. It’s painful sometimes to say “no” and to create the space for silence, but it truly changes everything.
I intend to spend more time in stillness and silence in 2020. I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to play “The Game” to begin with.