Don’t Look Up

Have you ever wondered if we could live day to day without our mobile devices? I think of it every day when I am walking or going to the grocery store. Daily, I see an accident just waiting to happen. Often, it’s a mother pushing her young baby in a carriage, but she is attentively looking at her phone and rolls the baby off the curve or into traffic. The loud horn blowing scares her for a moment and brings her back to reality. Once safe again, the same habits are repeated. Every day, I witness lots of people that remind me of those in the crosswalk photo, all looking down and not communicating with anyone except their phones.

On a daily basis, people of all ages bump into each other on the foot path and look startled, but usually not able to say excuse me. Often, I see many people tumble and fall because they are glued to the tiny screen that never leaves their hand. My biggest curiosity is what’s so important or exciting that has everyone mesmerised, forcing them to keep their heads down? I truly believe that everyone would be surprised if they just looked up once in a while to experience all the beauty around them.

When many of my friends started having babies, I noticed how fast the small children were able to access the mobile phones or devices. I would often look at them in awe, simply amazed how they seem to have been born with the adept to operate this contraption. I wondered if it was now a part of the pregnancy, or something fed to the mother to equip the newborn child with savvy skills. Instead of screaming for a toy or a bottle, young children are screaming for their parents’ mobile device or iPad. Once received, the temper tantrum subsides, and the parent goes back to looking at their phones too.

When I allow my mind to run wild, everything feels like a game or a trick to get everyone in the world to not look up so they can really see what may be happening around them. It’s great to see people taking long walks through beautiful botanical gardens, parks, or along the sandy beaches without ever noticing the beautiful flowers in bloom, the gorgeous pelicans or black swans playing in the water, or how beautiful and serene the beach looks on a warm day. Everyone appears to be glued to their mobile screens the way a drug addict is attached to their heroin in an attempt to get away.

I too was a mobile phone addict for many years, but during the past 2 years of COVID, I have worked hard to limit my use. It took a while to end my relationship with my mini me, that what I named my phone. And they were not happy with me for quite a while. With practice and setting up strong guidelines, I was able to start enjoying life again. Walking for exercise is one of my favourite things to do, especially when the weather is great. When walking for 90 minutes or 2 hours, I never look at my phone. Close friends know how to reach me in case there is something urgent that may need my attention. Otherwise, everything gets placed on hold until I return home. I also use my mobile phone for listening to great books. It’s amazing how far you can walk without exhaustion when you are alert and aware of your surroundings. Over the months, I have also discovered a walking meditation that focuses on what you are seeing on your walk, sounds you are hearing, smells in the air when you pass a bakery or beautiful flowers, the type of birds around you, and finally how it all makes you feel. It’s always the happiest feeling after my invigorating walk. My mobile mini me is often pouting because of the lack of attention.

With new technology, it’s almost impossible to go anywhere without your mobile device. We can now use our mobile phones to pay for meals, purchase groceries, riding public transportation, going to the movies, buying chips from a vending machine, enjoying happy hour with friends at the local pub, and paying for medical appointments. When trying to pay for anything with cash, often staff are confused and must concentrate on giving you the correct change. Quite often, they have given me too much money back and I always return the extra dollars and change so they won’t be in trouble later.

One of my favourite past times is talking to lots of people about many different things. I started asking people about their mobile phones and would they be able to not touch them for an hour, a day, or a weekend. The look in their eyes caused me to produce a very nervous giggle because they looked as if they wanted to strangle me for asking such a ridiculous question. Many people, even children, now have their own cell phones, with the potential to do an endless number of tasks, such as looking for answers to certain questions or getting directions. We must have our phones charged and ready to go if we are in a restaurant so that we can take photos of our food, and when gathered with friends, we all must take a selfie together to show others the fun we are having together. Many of us are obsessed with checking our Facebook accounts, uploading images on Instagram, following TikTok accounts, and tweeting what a good time we are having, instead of actually having a good time with those sitting next to us. Today, many individuals, such as parents, guardians and teachers are becoming more aware of both the pros and cons of mobile phones; here are a few of them:

High Level of Portability. Many people prefer to use mobile devices and have replaced their landlines because mobile phones are smaller and portable. The need to stay around a certain area to use a landline is eliminated with a mobile phone. One by one I started to cancel all of my home and business landline accounts for voice calls and faxing. There was no need to keep spending money for them since they were hardly ever used. Traveling also became much easier with little worry of losing service.

Web Access. Most mobile devices are built with a component that allows us to connect to the internet as if we are sitting in front of our desktop computer. Amazing.

Communication Between Parents and Children. This only works if the child or the parent does not choose to ignore the incoming call or mute the phone which happens a lot. Parents are also able to track their teenagers. Teens are also wise enough to turn off the tracking device or set it to be in a certain place when their parents try to track them.

Accidents. Texting while driving has caused millions of deaths from traffic accidents each year. Teens contribute to a high level of accidents due to texting on their mobile devices. Don’t feel left out, adults are just as bad when it comes to texting and driving and causing accidents too. It only takes a second or two for all of us to lose our attention of the road, other drivers, and people in the cross walk.

Distraction. Especially among young people, mobile phones can be distracting from their studying, doing homework, or even crossing the street. Adults also get distracted by burning dinner, missing the correct turn off to a destination, forgetting to pick up their child from school or their partner from work. Often couples may be on a date, but they are both looking down at their phones and not really communicating with each other. The next time you are out at a restaurant or an event, take a moment to look around at how many people are together, but not communicating with each other although they came to enjoy each other’s company.

Addiction. It’s something we all have to accept; we are addicted to our mobile phones on various levels. The thought of leaving them at home or turning them off gives us instant anxiety. It feels like we have become the heads down generation. Most people prefer conversing through short text messages as opposed to talking to anyone, it’s not personal. Just the thought of it causes instant stress. Today, we live in a world where our mobile devices are a part of our livelihood. In order to shop or eat at a restaurant, most of us pay with our phones. It’s supposed to be safer than carrying a wallet with cash and credit cards that you could lose.

Directions. No one is as bad as I am when it comes to directions. If I was meant to go left, 9 out of 10 times, I would go right. When someone would say to me, meet me on the southeast corner of Van Ness Avenue and Hayes Street in San Francisco, I would be standing in the middle of traffic until they came to find me. Or for example, meet me on the northwest corner of Oliver Lane and Russell Street in Melbourne, I would be weeping on the streets until my friends texted me or came looking for me so we could have dinner. But with my mobile device, I can put in the address and my phone would take me by the ear and lead me to the restaurant, making me look like a very smart traveller.

Saving Lives. Many of you are aware of all the killings and murders of Black people in America because of the colour of their skin. Mobile phones and devices are the reason action is being taken today because someone is always nearby to film police brutality being used on children, women, and men. That type of violence is not required as part of a police person’s job. Without these devices to record everything, I fear that many of these cases would go unnoticed in the media and to the world. So, these devices can save a life and help to bring justice to brutal injustices.

Once I facilitated a workshop for 50 people on the topic of communications. I started the training by asking everyone to write their name on an envelope and to place their mobile phones into the envelope. One would have thought I had announced the beginning of World War III or some other terrible disaster. Everyone obeyed my request with lots of hesitation. After talking about the importance of communicating with each other, I asked everyone to pair up with someone they didn’t know and to get to know each other for the next 30 minutes. I was tempted to stop the activity but decided to allow everyone to sit in silence. No one said a word. I could see the anxiety on most of their faces. When the timer went off, I could see the relief on their faces. I asked why the exercise was so difficult. It was shared that it’s much easier to have a conversation through text messaging whether it’s a new person or an old friend. Fear of looking at someone, looking in their eyes and wondering what they are thinking scared everyone in the room. Many people mentioned they would use fake names and photos to describe themselves because they were going through a period of having pimples or they didn’t like the way they looked. The next hour was spent helping them learn to have simple conversations with each other and to look at the face and eyes of the other person instead of looking at the ground.

Yes, I love all of my mobile devices and depend on them probably like we all do. I am getting better with practice, walking away, and leaving it on my desk to get things done or to experience all of the beauty around me when I am walking to the park to meditate. I challenge each of you to try separating from your mobile device for 30 minutes, then for an hour, then 2 hours, and if possible, longer. You may be surprised when you see the difference it will have on your outlook.

In closing, I want to remind everyone not to be like the man on the boat in the photo below. He is probably so busy checking his social media accounts or looking for information on when the whale may be in the area that he didn’t realise that the whale had been waiting for a while and posing to be in one of his photographs. Sometimes we miss opportunities while looking in the wrong direction.

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Mikael Wagner is a communications project manager with focus on health promotion, public relations , marketing and focus group facilitation.

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Mikael Wagner

Mikael Wagner

Mikael Wagner is a communications project manager with focus on health promotion, public relations , marketing and focus group facilitation.

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