Our eyes are portals to living.
For many, our phones are these portals. We watch the world through our screens. It’s at a restaurant. It’s on the bus. It’s with your friends. It’s with your family. You’re in the mosh pit of a concert crashing through a sea of bodies. Limbs stick out all directions. Your arm is raised above your head and your phone is your extending limb. Your phone’s microscopic camera captures what you paid for your eyes to be seeing.
Our phones — and their ever-increasing presence — diminish our ability to live in the moment.
Live in the moment
Taking photos is a way of capturing these moments. An article from Vice explores how documenting our lives for Snapchat and Instagram can decrease the likelihood of retaining those moments as a significant memory. Yu discusses the photo-taking-impairment effect studied by researchers Julia Soares and Benjamin Storm at the University of California Santa Cruz. As a result of this phenomenon, “participants are less likely to remember objects they photograph than objects they only observe.”
Soares and Storm say this is caused by a cognitive offloading account. When people take photos, they rely on the camera to remember the moment, not bothering to remember themselves.
Soares also proposed a hypothesis called “attentional disengagement.” This suggests that cameras both on and off your phone take us out of the present moment enough to impair the formation of memories even after the camera has been put down.
Social media apps such as Snapchat have even greater memory impairments because of aspects such as filters, text edits and special effects. A procured story disrupts the absorption of the present and prevents an emotional connection to moments and memories. “Removed” a project by photographer Eric Pickersgill presents images of people where technology is digitally removed.
The original series — taken in North America — captures the powerful disconnect of individuals gazing at their phones. A man and a woman are lying in bed with their backs pressed against each other. They each have a device in their hand, which Pickersgill has edited away.
I want to scream!
I want them to turn around and look at the connection in front of them. I want them to share that moment. I want them to see it’s better than their screens. They look miserable. Their mouths are soft and curving in the formation of a frown and their eyes are bleak. The picture is in black and white representing the dullness of our saturated world. Life is colourless without human connection.
Barriers to connection
In 2018, musician Jack White announced phones would be banned at that year’s concert tour. “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON,” said White in a statement, as quoted by NBC.
Concertgoers were required to stow phones in provided pouches that would lock during the concert. The pouches remain with the individual and if access is needed to the device they must exit the concert — sanctioned the “phone-free zone”— and have it unlocked.
Concerts exist to create a moment and a connection between a musician and their fans. Watching a concert through a phone makes neither possible. Sometimes when I go to restaurants, I play a game. We stack our phones in the middle of the table — like a web-enabled Jenga tower. The first person to check his or her phone must pay for everyone’s meal, or in some cases just the drinks. I’ve never been in a situation where someone swipes it unconsciously and must pay, but we’ve removed them in valid circumstances.
When our cellphones become barriers to connection, we forget about living in the moment. Although often unintentional, it also can be damaging. There’s so much value when viewing the world through your own eyes, and not your phones. There’s so much value to human connection. There’s so much value to breathing in a moment. Sometimes when I go places where I’m amazed by what I see, I use my eyes as a camera. I take a long pause. I take a deep breath. I shut my eyes and open them. “Click.” Moment captured, memory saved.