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Temperance Not Prohibition

Temperance Not Prohibition

“The smartphone is in the saddle, and it rides mankind.” Ross Douthat.

On a bike ride not long ago I spotted a man standing on his front porch, neck bent with gaze downcast on the little flat box in his right hand.  I was triggered, I thought about where my phone was and when I could check it.  I kept riding and thought about the day in the future that a silhouette of that pose will represent this era, the 2010’s.

The compulsion to be connected via this technology won’t kill us exactly but is far from harmless.  Douthat in The New York Times states that it “requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the traditional graces of existence – your spouse and friends and children, the natural world, good food and great art – in a state of perpetual distraction.” 

So true, so true.  Last week I was in two meetings, six people in each, two separate days.  In one group, the custom is no-screens, including no phones on the table.  The other group apparently has not established any limits and three people were using their phone, their laptop, or both during the meeting.  One group focused on whoever was speaking, eyes were connected, any notes were taken with a pen.  In the other group, it was hard to tell who was in the meeting or connected elsewhere, attention was scattered, someone left to take a call, people were quickly and continuously distracted by movement outside the glass in both ends of the conference room.

Such amazing tools we have.  At coffee with a friend that same week I was sharing something I was reading and my friend ordered the book as we talked.  While writing about the compulsion of connectivity 5 minutes ago I asked Siri how to spell “silhouette.”

We don’t want prohibition but we need temperance.  Temperance can simply mean “a culture of restraint that tries to keep a specific product in its place.  And the internet, like alcohol, may be an example of a technology that should be sensibly restricted in custom and in law,” (Douthat).  This is happening in families, in theaters, and in organizations and can spread to so many spaces.  We’ll need to work consciously to catch up with the technology that seduces and addicts up (and “alienates and sedates” us in Douthat’s words) but there is a lot at stake – namely the richness of connecting to people we love and the natural world.

“Resist the Internet,” Ross Douthat, The New York Times, March 12, 2017