May 2018. We were looking forward to a week in our favourite campsite near Rome. Our family holidays are a time to slow right down and simply enjoy being together. My husband was working in Rhodes the week before our holiday. So to save him travelling too much, we planned to meet at Rome airport. As always, I left my smart phone at home for a tech free holiday. My final text to him said “if we don’t find each other in the airport, lets meet at the campsite, ps what is the address of the site?” I then switched off my phone, left it in the car and started the journey with my two young daughters.
Hours later we arrived at Rome airport, anticipating our rendezvous. We’d booked our flights to arrive at the same time and waited at arrivals for him. One hour passed and I began to wonder if I’d got the timings wrong. Two hours passed and I knew something was wrong. Three hours passed and I started to panic. It was 9pm, I had two young children in Rome with no phone. I couldn’t get the airport phones to work and couldn’t find the off site hire car company. Distressed and upset I begged the help desk for assistance. I somehow managed to recall my husbands number and finally got through.
“Jon where are you?” I asked
“didn’t you get my message?” Jon replied
“no, how would I get your message? I left my phone at home…remember?”
“I’m in Vienna”
“the plane broke we got redirected I’ll be in tomorrow, see you at the campsite”
With ice cream for dinner and a hairy taxi ride we finally arrived, not exactly the calm start I’d planned.
August 2019. We were camping in France. Determined not to work or waste time scrolling on my phone. I left my phone at home again. I’d been struggling, finding that social media often led me to feel jealous and envious. I was under pressure to have an online presence for work & friendships. Often feeling out of control, trapped & disconnected.
I was under pressure to have an online presence for work & friendships. Often feeling out of control, trapped & disconnected.Tweet
No airport disasters this time. Instead a far deeper problem arose. I felt anxious, struggled with constant FOMO*, I kept thinking about my phone and I simply couldn’t rest. In the end I felt frustrated and confused that leaving my phone at home hadn’t worked and hadn’t led to this peaceful, tech-free holiday. After my first holiday I thought my need for my phone was purely practical. After my second holiday I realised my need for my phone ran much deeper. I returned home and started googling “phone anxiety”. It was then I discovered Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science.
I found Cal honest, frank yet reassuring. He talks openly about phone use as an addiction. His influences among many are whistle blowers like Tristan Harris who were trained in the Billionaire labs in Silicon Valley: “Labs which create technologies specifically designed to trigger addictive behaviour” . He reveals the concept of the phone as your constant companion “Smartphones are our constant companions. For many of us, their glowing screens are a ubiquitous presence, drawing us in with endless diversions, like the warm ping of social approval delivered in the forms of likes and retweets, and the algorithmically amplified outrage of the latest “breaking” news or controversy. They’re in our hands, as soon as we wake, and command our attention until the final moments before we fall asleep”. But he is also realistic about how to bring change. He says that “small changes are not enough to solve our big issues with new technologies. The underlying behaviours we hope to fix are ingrained in our culture. What we need is a philosophy of technology use”. I recently watched the film “The Social Dilemma”, I think like Cal’s book Digital Minimalism, this does a great job at opening the conversation more widely.
“What we need is a philosophy of technology use” Cal NewportTweet
This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking. Tech experts are raising the alarm on what they have created. The documentary concludes that as a society we need to start further back. We need to recognise that there is a Social Dilemma. It suggests that there has been a failure of leadership in the tech industry, a failure to question the ethics of what they were creating, a failure of people coming out and having open conversations about things that aren’t perfect.
Rather than giving my tops tips or reflections on this film, I wanted simply to start where the film finished. So this is me starting a conversation, admitting there is a problem, recognising this really is Our social dilemma. Would you join and share with me your story? Change will only come as we begin to open up the conversation.
Questions: What is your story about your experience with social media? How can you open up a conversation about The Social Dilemma? What is your philosophy of technology use?
Discuss: Want to dive deeper into the dilemmas featured in the film? Use this guide to start a discussion
Read: Practical help for screen addicts – a review of Digital Minimalism from The Gospel Coalition
*Fear of missing out (FOMO)