Your phone is a time travel device. It’s kinda mediocre as far as time travel goes; it only goes one direction (to the future) and it only lets you skip ahead a few minutes at a time. Maybe an hour if you really push it. Oh, and you still age while your using it. So, I guess it’s actually a crappy time travel device. But it is one we all use every day to skip forward in time.
I first realized what I was doing while living in Queens a few years ago. I had a commute from Astoria into Midtown and I took the train like any non-insane New Yorker would. If I was even a little off with my timing (or the weather was bad), I would end up commuting during the morning or evening rush hours. What is rush hour like on a subway train you ask? Well, in the summer it’s like taking the mosh pit from a metal concert and packing all the hot sweaty people into a subway car so that they are all touching me somehow. In the winter it’s the same thing, but with puffy jackets.
My point is that is sucks. And the way to escape the suckiness is to pull out your phone and lose yourself in whatever game/app/book/hacker news comment thread can capture your interest for 15 minutes until you get to your stop. When your attention is fully captured, it is magical. It really can feel like time travel.
I probably always inherently knew about this phenomenon, but that commute really drove it home for me. I quickly found myself applying phone based time travel in lots of other aspects of big city life. Long line at the grocery store? Pull out the phone and skip the wait. Arrive at the DOL 30 minutes before it opens only to see 40 people in line already? Skip it! 45 minute wait to get seated at a popular restaurant? Skip! Same restaurant is too loud to talk and takes 45 minutes to bring our orders out? Skip!
Walking around the city, you will notice that everyone is doing this all the time.
“So what?” You are probably saying, “Sounds like you skipped a lot of boring and low value moments.” Yes, yes I did. And I don’t want them back. But all this skipping has taken a toll. It has eroded my ability to just be alone in my own head with my own thoughts.
My wife and I had a child and decided to leave big city for a small one with a much (much, much) slower pace. We did this specifically so we could make sure we were able to maximize the time we had with our little girl while she’s actually a little girl. And I love every minute around her. But sometimes she’s doing something that maybe is not the most mentally stimulating to me (it is hard to be “there” when you’ve watched her make the same little block tower 50 times in a row and knock it over)… And I look down at my hands to find that my phone has jumped out of my pocket, unlocked itself and opened my twitter feed.
A year in a half into the parenting “journey”, I already can see how fleeting these moments with your kids are and phone time traveling through any of it seems unthinkable. Now when I’m around my family, I’m leaving the phone out of reach and on vibrate.
I’m not here to advocate that we stop using smart phones and I don’t intend to stop using mine. I’m just worried that people don’t realize what they’re doing. I want them to use their time traveling devices responsibly.
Remember, they don’t go back.