Switch off your cell­phone, set your­self free,

COM­MEN­TARY: Si­lence may truly be golden in the age of the ubiq­ui­tous mo­bile de­vices.

Ottawa Citizen - - BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY -

LON­DON • Will mir­a­cles never cease? I learned on Mon­day there is a team of of­fi­cials in the U.K. Cab­i­net Of­fice known as the Nudge Unit, charged with sug­gest­ing “ways peo­ple can make small changes to im­prove their lives.” Nat­u­rally, this sent the tax­payer in me into a lather of in­dig­na­tion. No won­der the na­tional debt is so moun­tain­ous if crack­pot ini­tia­tives like this are given the green light in White­hall.

But then, won­der of won­ders, out of the Be­havioural In­sights Team, as it is for­mally known, emerged com­mon sense so beau­ti­ful and brac­ing that it was like be­ing nudged by Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

Sup­pose, asks Pro­fes­sor Paul Dolan of the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, a former stal­wart of the unit, hap­pi­ness is not own­ing the lat­est, smartest mo­bile phone, but is, in fact, hav­ing that phone switched off? Sup­pose si­lence truly is golden, a nec­es­sary an­ti­dote to a shrill, in­tru­sive world?

The prob­lem with smart­phones, warns Dolan, is that they dis­tract users’ at­ten­tion from the peo­ple around them. “Turn­ing your phone off and en­joy­ing be­ing with your friends is much bet­ter for you than con­stantly check­ing your phone and emails,” he told an au­di­ence at the Hay Fes­ti­val in Carta­gena, Colom­bia.

He is hardly a lone voice. He is only ar­tic­u­lat­ing some­thing that mil­lions share: a vague sense that our su­per-con­nected world is also dan­ger­ously dis­con­nected from things that mat­ter.

Switch­ing off your mo­bile can im­prove your emo­tional health — as I found from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence last year. I was trav­el­ling in the States, left my mo­bile phone at the ho­tel and, for the next two hours, felt anx­ious and dis­ori­en­tated. Sup­pose some­thing hap­pened to my loved ones? Sup­pose so-and-so needed to get hold of me? All the usual neu­roses of the mid­dle-aged male.

But then, as san­ity re­turned, the feel­ings of anx­i­ety abated. Af­ter four hours of be­ing cut off from what I had come to re­gard as civ­i­liza­tion, I felt as re­laxed as if I’d had a par­tic­u­larly good lunch. Af­ter six hours, I was in such a happy space that, when I fi­nally got back to the ho­tel and was re­united with my phone, I felt not re­lief, but re­sent­ment. Did my life have to re­volve around that lit­tle elec­tronic tyrant? Couldn’t its bid­dings wait?

The next day, and for the fol­low­ing five days, I left my phone in the ho­tel and re­solved to check my mes­sages no more than once a day.

The re­sult was as dra­matic as it was heart­en­ing. Un­til you sever your links with the peo­ple you are in touch with 24/7, you don’t re­al­ize quite how stress­ful those links are.

I found my­self paying closer at­ten­tion to the world around me: en­joy­ing the sights and sounds of Amer­ica, and hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions that felt like real con­ver­sa­tions.

Dolan has clearly had sim­i­lar epipha­nies. His plea for re­duced de­pen­dency on mo­bile phones throws down the gaunt­let to a gen­er­a­tion that, in its fas­ci­na­tion with new tech­nol­ogy, has got its pri­or­i­ties askew.

One of the defin­ing im­ages of the 21st cen­tury is rows of men in suits on air­planes switch­ing on their phones within nanosec­onds of their planes land­ing. They have mis­taken er­gonomic ef­fi­ciency for cool­ness: they think they are demon­strat­ing en­ergy and dy­namism. They can­not see how pa­thetic they look, clutch­ing at the um­bil­i­cal cord that links them to their bosses/girl­friends/book­mak­ers.

The next time they land at Heathrow, they should try wait­ing five min­utes be­fore switch­ing on their mo­biles. Then 10 min­utes. Then 20. It could be the sav­ing of them.


The prob­lem with smart­phones, warns Prof. Paul Dolan of the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, is that they dis­tract users’ at­ten­tion from the peo­ple around them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.