By B. Shurin
This week during oral arguments in the Supreme Court
regarding the constitutionality of Obama’s Healthcare law, the members
of the press were without their phones and mobile devices for the
entire time they were sitting in and listening to the arguments.
In our times, news is broadcasted almost instantly with the help of
Facebook, Twitter, 4G networks and the like. This restriction,
reinforced by the court, brings the reporters back to a time when they
would have to run to a nearby payphone to call in a scoop after the
big story broke. This week, those reporters wishing to report the
details of the arguments needed to wait until after the two hour court
session had ended or leave the courtroom in middle and risk missing
out on something more newsworthy.
This rule by the court agrees with the general
psychosocial consensus as to how the technological revolution has
influenced us. A recent article in the New York Times recounted a
growing phenomenon of young and successful men and women who are, by
the author’s own account, “smartphone holdouts”. These individuals
cite multiple reasons for hanging on to their ‘dumbphones’, despite
being prime candidates for smartphone ownerships in terms of
demographics. Some people are simply refusing to get sucked into the
game of instantaneous communication, whether with work-contacts or
peripheral acquaintances. Perhaps more importantly, people worry about
the effect constant access to the internet has on their critical
thinking, creativity, and interpersonal relationships. The author
Jonathan Safran Foer relinquished his smartphone after he realized he
was checking his phone while bathing his children. He decided to
choose to live in the present, rather than being preoccupied with
“tossed off emails from people [he] barely know[s]”. He says his
writing has improved tremendously. As stated by Nicholas Carr in his
book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains”, the
pervasiveness of the internet has “diminishe[d] the ability to sustain
focus and think interpretatively”.
This article reminded me about a short video I saw
recently, produced in an effort to get people to “disconnect and enjoy
life”. Although the actors and some of the scenes reflect Orthodox
Judaism, the underlying theme is universal. The video portrays how
people using their smartphones constantly, whether to check their
email, surf the internet, or text others, are missing out on what is
going on around them in real time. One scene depicts a father pushing
an empty swing in the park, as he browsed the web on his smartphone.
When he put his phone away, his daughter reappeared on the swing and
the world around him came back into focus.
When the Supreme Court forbade tweeting and other
instantaneous mobile devices during this crucial case, perhaps it did
so with the hope that people would be forced to do just that: focus on
and think interpretatively about the present, without the pressure to
instantly report fragmented news lacking thoughtful interpretation.