A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation that really got me thinking…
I was in a restaurant, and the mate I was with had just run off to the bathroom. With no food to keep me occupied, and no one to talk to, my first instinct was to immediately divert attention to my phone… But just as the phone was in my grasp and sliding out of my pocket, I took notice of the conversation that a young couple were having in the seat in front.
They were arguing. Sort of. I wouldn’t call it a fight, but it was certainly a war of words. One had their phone in their hand, the other did not. One had barely made a dent in their plate, the other was almost finished.
“I said that I think we’re having a great conversation.”
“No. Just a little sad and a little awkward. But humour for me a second, when was the last time you went three hours without checking that thing?”
My ears pricked up, I paused and attempted to answer the question myself. But after a few minutes of digging I came to the conclusion that – besides sleeping and extreme situations – I literally couldn’t remember the last time I let 180 minutes pass without checking my electronic brain.
That realisation depressed me to no end. CUE EXISTENTIAL CRISIS —
Oh God. I’m enslaved, I’m enslaved, I’M ENSLAVED. I’m shackled to this piece of metal in my pocket and there’s nothing I can do to escape because I’m hungry. I AM HUNGRY AND I AM USELESS AND I HAVE NO SELF CONTROL BECAUSE THE WORLD’S GONNA END AND I’M GONNA DIE BECAUSE TERMINATOR IS PROPHECY, JUDGEMENT DAY IS COMING. ARNIE IS ON HIS WAY! SCREW YOU JAMES CAMERON! SCREW YOUSKYNET! SCREW YOU MARK ZUCKERBERG! ALDNAIODS9AS8D-AS8DA-S0DAKJDBAUALHDJLASDHALS//
So, I ran Screen Time for a week and was shocked to find that I spent over FOUR HOURS A DAY looking at my phone, on average.
Yep. A QUARTER of my waking hours. For every three minutes open, one closed.
But I wasn’t alone.
Statistics from Smart Insights®, Nielsen, Pew Research Center, comScore and Rescue Time, indicate that the average person spends over four hours a day on their device. With the top 20% of users spending more than 4.5 hours a day.
So how does this affect us? And how does it affect our relationship with art and entertainment?
Firstly, we’re stuck in a never-ending cycle of partial attention. We know that we have the power to find answers in seconds, so we don’t fight for said answers. Think about the last time you were having a conversation with someone and you failed to recall the name of something or someone. Did you just sit there and struggle for an extended period of time whilst your friend waited for you to remember? Or did you pull out your phone to find the answer immediately? I know what I’ve done.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t take advantage of our technology, but I do think that our allergy to boredom and unanswered questions is damaging. If we’re always ‘on’, switching from context to context, conversation to conversation, headline to headline, then we rarely get the chance to stop and consider things deeply for ourselves. There is no baseline, no state of rest.
We scan but can’t see. Even as I type this, I’m constantly trying to ward off the monkey in my mind that seeks to distract; the one that constantly asks for MOREMOREMORE, NOWNOWNOW.
We are always hungry, but we are never full.
Enter STREAMING SERVICES. Our very own twenty first century Pandora’s box of distraction. Now, every time we watch a film, or listen to a song, we’re basically watching it with our fingers hovering over a big red nuclear button of NOPE.
Imagine meeting your partner’s parents for the first time and trying to act normal after noticing that their father’s hand is hovering over a button of NOPE. That’s not a fair test.
Think about how often you listen to albums front to back these days. Think about how commonplace it is to see people ‘watching’ a movie with one eye on the TV and the other on their phone. I mean, I get it, Love Island doesn’t require the same amount of respect and attention as Lawrence of Arabia, but I digress.
We get fed what we eat, and after a long day at work, people want that hit of warm and fuzzy dopamine. That’s the currency. Ever notice that you tend to gravitate towards your tried and true when you feel exhausted? Favourite food, movie, song, etc.
And everything is optimised to win the war of attention.
It’s why most films are franchised; it’s why Netflix has those cheesy mysterious one-line-movie descriptions and it’s why, many artists release their music with song titles that are ALL CAPS or all lowercase, oR bOTh. It stands out, it makes us glance, and for at least a second… it makes us pay attention.
This war of attention is making us spoiled for choice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen asleep trying to choose a movie compared to actually watching one. It’s why we’re seeing less albums, shorter songs and more EPs and singles. So many tracks get lost in the murk because that skip button is too damn easy to press.
It’s no surprise that podcasts are huge. It fits our multi-tasking, on-the-go, NOWNOWNOW lifestyle to a tee.
I have to ask, would your favourite films and songs have had the same impact on you if you heard them in the wrong environment, a distracted environment?
We should challenge ourselves to give things more of a chance. Consume something that makes you feel the urge to skip but resist that urge. Who knows? You might end up discovering something new. But this doesn’t only apply to art and entertainment, it applies to everything. From now on, I’m going to challenge myself to pay closer attention, spend less time with my phone, and take frequent sips from mugs that aren’t typically my cup of tea.
How about you?