As far as we know, Human beings (Homo sapiens, that is) began to populate Eastern Africa around 150,000 years ago. Every single one of those people – smart, inventive people, living lives with just as many ecstatic highs and crushing lows as ours – lived without a mobile phone.
That’s 149,980 years of our collective history (if we say the mobile phone became commonplace in the last twenty years). Humans that looked just like us played out long lives and short lives, happy and sad existences; with many remarkable achievements and tragic losses – and all without the comfort of a mobile phone.
In other words, for the vast majority of our history as a species (more than 99.9% of the time we’ve been on this Planet), Human beings knew what it felt like to be completely alone whenever they weren’t physically with other people. Tapping your pockets with the palms of your hands, for that brief moment of worry that your phone’s not there, is a completely new feeling.
We have begun to lose the ability to be comfortable in our own company.
But let’s make something clear. This is definitely not about smashing up your phone and never using it again. I still have one, which I still use. Instead, it’s about why, from time to time, leaving your phone at home is something worthwhile.
The first people that discovered they could make fire weren’t able to control it and utilise it in the ways we do today. Those ancient Humans had no idea that, one day, we would build chambers to house monolithic fires that create electricity. Over time, we teach ourselves the many ways that new technology improves our lives.
And how does that relate to mobile phones? In one very simple way.
We are the generations that have ‘discovered’ modern technology. We are like those first people that watched a bush fire spread across the plains and realised that it might be useful. But, just as it took time for us to build the knowledge of how to use fire, it will take time for us to understand the ways technology like phones affect us.
And this time, in my opinion, the benefits are obvious. It’s the bad effects that will take some realising.
Really, it is about common sense. Without a phone in your pocket, you have an uninterrupted space of time to pay attention to the world around you. If your eyes and ears are focused on a screen and a speaker, how can you ever really appreciate what’s going on?
People who sit in front of a screen and play World of Warcraft for hours on end are laughed at, ridiculed for being addicts and time-wasters. What’s the difference between that and spending hours of every day looking at a phone? They are both screens, and both are ways of escaping into a digital world with other people. They’re both as ‘real’ as the other.
If you feel uncomfortable, nervous or anxious just because your phones run out of battery or you’ve lost it, then it’s really important to ask yourself why you feel that way.
In less than a quarter of a century, we’ve forgotten how to sit quietly with our own thoughts, we’ve stopped looking and started continuously photographing instead. In the company of old friends, we disappear into the digital world – heads down, separate from any real conversation, and we are all afraid of being alone – even if it’s just for a few minutes! The knee-jerk, addictive reaction is always to grab for the phone and escape the terrifying sense of being just you.
Our parents remember a time when this wasn’t the case, and their parents too.
In fact, the generation that I am a part of (I’m 28), is the first generation to grow up in this modern age. The first.
At no other time in the history of Planet Earth has any species, let alone our own, felt awkward or uneasy just because it was walking from one place to another without being connected to thousands of people at once. Mobile phones are an incredible, revolutionary development that have undoubtedly improved our lives in many, many ways, but by becoming so attached to them, there are experiences, feelings and – above all – an ability to be confident and comfortable on our own – that we are losing by living out our entire lives with a phone.
Try leaving it at home even just for a walk around the park. Don’t give up the first time when it makes you feel strange. In the end, it really is worth it.