By: Rivka Krause  | 

Musings of a Tech Addict

I was riding a commuter bus into New Jersey a few weeks ago, and on the highway, my bus pulled up alongside another commuter bus. As my view was blocked by the other bus, I noticed that the majority of the people inside it were on their phones. Many were watching TV, others were scrolling through social media, and a few were reading the news. I was listening to music and answering the occasional text, but I still couldn’t help feeling disappointed in all of us for spending our tedious commutes so closed off from each other. Each of us was in our own distant world. Of course, the last thing that anyone wants to do on a commuter bus to New Jersey is talk to the person next to them. 

Lately, I have been reflecting on my relationship with my phone, and this article is a musing on the ways that I interact with it. I cannot help but feel dissuaded and disillusioned by my constant grasping for it. The way that it functions as an almost safety blanket in uncomfortable situations, and worse, as a blinder to negligible moral errors happening in front of me. How many times have I turned to look at my phone to not face the unhoused person asking me for money on the subway? How many times have I aimlessly scrolled while in the Stern elevator to ignore the awkwardness of the space? As writer Kashmir Hill put it, my grasping is “accompanied by the kind of queasy regret that I associate with unhealthy behavior — that feeling I get after I drink too many glasses of wine, finish the whole bag of sour gummies or stay at the poker table when I’m on tilt.” Technology is a tool to make our lives better, so why do I feel that it is inhibiting my ability to be present? Even as I write this article, I have to fight the urge to pick up my phone and distract myself from the task in front of me. 

Over winter break, I spent five days in a cabin in the Catskills with a group of friends. Our plan was to spend long slow days reading by the fireplace, going on an occasional hike, and reconnecting with each other. I went into the trip with the intention of casually abandoning my phone and trying to be incredibly present, and while I was there, it worked. However, as soon as I returned to the regular flow of my life, I felt like I couldn’t get away from technology. Even in school, I found that as soon as I took out my laptop for a class, I was checking my WhatsApp, scanning random articles, and doing anything but listening. That realization caused me to return to handwriting my notes. As soon as I made that change, my ability to focus returned, but I also became more aware of the laptop usage in my classes. I don't fully know how much people are paying attention, but I do notice the endless bouts of online shopping and infinite rounds of NYTGames that people engage in. Sometimes that reality of splintered focus does negatively impact the learning environment as a whole. If everyone is in their own little world, it’s impossible to engage in the communal aspect of learning. 

While Shabbat mandates a rest from our phones and therefore makes us luckier than most people in our modern era, it isn’t enough. Our weekly technology reprieve does not eliminate the effects that our phones have the other six days of the week. How many of us reach for our phones as soon as Shabbat ends, only to find nothing of interest? This is not a question of moral superiority and Luddite finger-wagging, but about having more intentional and mindful relationships with technology. We should all seriously consider how our phones impact our lives, and whether they truly enrich our relationships and experiences, or if they detract from them. We have so little time, why spend most of it gazing at our screens instead of the people and world around us? 


Photo Caption: Early 2000s subway ride

Photo Credit: Marc Smith / Wikimedia Commons