Friday, June 08, 2012

Cigarettes vs. smartphones

A recent eye blog post by Camilla Grey about never being alone (or bored) with either a cigarette or a smartphone struck a chord with me, perhaps because I acquired an iPhone quite soon after I quit smoking (over a year ago now, apart from *cough* a cheeky one last week). It was handy to have something to replace the cigarette and initially fascinating to get apps, use them once, then forget all about them.

As a smoker I was rarely bored or alone if I was smoking. Smoking was a great time to reflect or relax, but also, if smoking in a public place (which more recently meant standing outside a pub or restaurant), a conversation with a fellow smoker would usually be struck. As I've mentioned in a previous post, the most interesting people at any gathering were always outside, smoking.

There are still a lot of smokers around but it's lost its cool factor. The cigarette I smoked last week was actually shared with a Spanish woman who referred to herself as a 'social smoker'. I thought that term had vanished and was now a contradiction in terms. Even a couple of years ago I was referring to myself as an anti-social smoker.

As the eye post mentions, people locked into their smartphones actually look unapproachable and anti-social rather than cool and popular, even if they are doing something perceived as social such as checking Facebook updates. But by constantly checking their phones they're not really connecting with their immediate physical world. This may mean they're missing something interesting (such as seeing a man with two blue parrots on his shoulders, perhaps) but mainly it's just seeing the world go by and people watching. Indeed, the more I see people glued to their phones and tablets, the more I see them as devices to block out the world, not interact with it more.

When I first got my iPhone a friend said to me, 'You'll never be bored again!' Which made me cringe. I like being bored; I've virtually made a career out of it. There used to be a time when I liked nothing better than to stare into space (smoking, naturally). Nowadays people can't be bored for a second. If they are, they'll just switch app. But being bored is good for the soul and the imagination.

I admit that smoking and smartphones is a somewhat tenuous link, but who knows, like with smoking, maybe in twenty years time we'll find that all these phones and tablets also cause cancer.

Camilla Grey's eye blog: You're never alone… with a smartphone

The title for this post is a twist on George Orwell's essay Books vs. Cigarettes.

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