Let me check my email…

Our electronic devices are tools. Like any other tool, they should be applied to the task at hand and then be put away. Constantly checking our devices indicates near-addictive behavior to electronic stimulation. These symptoms can be addressed through mindfulness of our actions. However, an ultimate cure requires replacing our shallow activities with more mindful pursuits.

In Melbourne, Australia a woman was so engrossed in checking her Facebook page that she walked off the end of St Kilda’s pier and fell in to Port Phillip Bay.  She couldn’t swim, but managed to hold onto her phone until she was rescued. Presumably she would have posted a selfie just before expiring if her phone were waterproof.

According to a government report  pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, in part due to “petextrians” — people who text while walking. Pedestrian fatalities have risen by 15 percent to about one pedestrian death every two hours.

“[T]he percentage of pedestrians killed while using cell phones has risen, from less than 1 percent in 2004 to more than 3.5 percent in 2010, according to a study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, cited by the GHSA report. And the number of pedestrians injured while on their cells has more than doubled since 2005….” — ABC News.

It’s not just pedestrians, of course.  We all know from daily experience the idiocy associated with distracted drivers. Looking in your rear view mirror to see the driver behind you looking steadily down as you approach a traffic light is a particularly helpless feeling. 

Our electronic devices (phones, computers, TVs, etc) are tools, just like hammers, compasses or chainsaws. As with all tools, they should be applied to the task at hand and then be put away.  How would you feel about someone who carried a chainsaw about all the time? Every few minutes she would start it up, rev it a few times and look about wild-eyed for something that needed cutting.

Scary thought? Whipping out a tool just on the off chance it might be needed? Replace the chainsaw with an iPhone and you have a picture of modern society.

Constantly checking your phone is a sign of addiction, electronic addiction.  No, I’m not prepared to discuss the definition of clinical addiction.  I’m not a psychologist, but I’m not blind, either. I can tell when people cannot control themselves, when they must serve their electronic masters at all costs. Whether it is meth or Facebook, the signs are the same.

This addiction can also be seen at our computers, where we surf constantly–not to find information–but to be distracted.  It’s also seen with television, where we flip channels endlessly before finally watching something we don’t like because there’s nothing good on. Hitting the power button never occurs to us.

How can we break this addiction?

  • First, be mindful. Pay attention to how often you use your electronic devices. Think of their use as an addiction, as debilitating as any other addiction.
  • Second, be purposeful. Remind yourself that these are tools, to be taken out for a particular task and then put away. Schedule TV time. Limit phone time. Use your computer for a purpose, beyond mere distraction, and then walk away.
  • Finally, fill your life with meaningful activities against which mere electronic distraction loses its attraction. Life is short. Can anything on Twitter compare?

Put down the phone. Put it down now and no one will get hurt. Otherwise my friend here with the chainsaw may get unpleasant. She’s been waiting for days for something to cut. You’ll do as well as any dead tree. After all there’s not much difference between you and dead wood if you spend your days worshiping a tiny screen.

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