Disjointed. Disconnected. Disassociated.
Intertwined. Linked. Unified.
Two sides of the same coin, and two ends of a spectrum that encompasses our relationship with technology. Social spaces have become one in the same with technology as individuals spend time mindlessly scrolling through the Twitterverse, or their ceaseless stream of staged, filtered photos on Instagram — even while in the presence of others.
“Do it for the ‘gram!” was once a wildly popular mindset, which then shifted to documenting and posting on Snapchat and TikTok. We as a population have traded in the luxury of socialization for being connected at all times in a virtual space, which often times can isolate us from those around us while simultaneously keeping us in touch.
As a teen, I was far more into documenting my time spent with friends than I am now. In an obnoxious admittance, I was ahead of my time. “Photography” was my passion, although I put this concept in quotations because it was really just me snapping pictures of my friends and I participating in dumb, teenage shenanigans — regardless of the quality or “artistic impression” of said photos. Even after acquiring a smartphone in god only remembers what year (god, I’m old), I’m almost positive I still carried my little digital camera around with me in favor of snapping some good, old fashioned photos. My smartphone was great for texting and making phone calls on a wildly new interface, but that was more or less the extent of its novelty for a time.
Now, however, I barely take photos anymore. I’m too busy scrolling through my own camera roll to indulge friends in memes, stupid fictional characters that I love too much (“stupid” is used lovingly here), and researching pieces of information that may come up in conversation that I need reference or context for. Do I need to perform any of these actions? Absolutely not. Does it make me feel like I’m contributing more to the conversation when I have visual reference? Unfortunately, yes. As someone who has always loved visualization, the ability to indulge others in the things I’ve come across has become a nagging necessity for me — regardless of whether it may actually be diminishing the quality of a conversation.
The Smartphone as a Piece of Sociology (and Society)
I recently read through a meticulously crafted article by Adam Greenfield, titled “A Sociology of the Smartphone“. Aptly named, this article quite literally dissects the “sociology” surrounding the smartphone: Greenfield recounts its emergence and quickly adapted relevance, its integration into society, and even deconstructs its anatomy to detail how each component affects our daily lives.
As he sets up the article, Greenfield discusses the “artifacts” of the old world that have since been replaced by the smartphone, particularly in our purses, pockets, and wallets. Photographs? Digitized. Tickets: travel and entertainment? Received straight to your inbox or purchased, then loaded, on an app. Money? Apple Pay. Datebooks and calendars? Just a tap away on your screen.
In addition to the personal property the smartphone has replaced, it’s also replaced cultural artifacts like the telephone booth, boomboxes, hand-held radios, and portable CD players. The smartphone even replaced one of its own brethren, the iPod. That old, romanticized scene from Say Anything that depicts Lloyd Dobler serenading Diane Court with a boombox held over his head? Nothing more, now, than a silly, nostalgic occurrence in an old movie.
As I mentioned, social graces have also been lost to time. Hailing a taxi? Just schedule an Uber or Lyft. Waiting in line for literally anything? Pull your phone out and scroll through a newsfeed. Hanging out with friends? Plan your meetup with a text, then proceed to spend downtime swiping through app screens whilst in their company. Need directions? Don’t ask that stranger, open up Maps. Wow, what a neat watch you’re wearing! “Oh,” I’ve said to people, “it doesn’t work; the battery’s dead. It’s just for show.”
Entire novels can now be read on Kindles and Nooks. Scientific research papers can be reduced to digitized PDFs that can be highlighted virtually and accessed nearly anywhere. Social networks allow us to get in touch with people around the world, and yet allow us to remain quite literally at arm’s length. Granted, I absolutely use Twitter to keep up with my friends who now live in a different state (or, rather, I now live in a different state than them), and I can keep in touch with artists I admire from around the world. That’s a crazy notion, but not one terribly foreign to me since I was doing the same thing via old websites like DeviantArt.
Nevertheless, tapping ‘Send’ on a response tweet to one of my friends from home only fills me with nostalgia and the yearning to physically see them again, at least once. I haven’t had the chance (with Covid and all) to see two of my best friends in about 1–3 years, given the individual. Over the span of the last month, I was able to see both — and the immense joy it filled me to be able to see, converse, and even hold(!) these dearly cherished friends (who I otherwise maintain contact with virtually/digitally) was enough to move me to near tears. I’m eternally grateful for the ability to keep in touch with these people essentially 24/7 (and we do our best to take advantage of that), but virtual back-and-forths pale in comparison to the ability to converse in real time, in a shared, physical space. (Cin, Gab — I miss the sh*t out of you two.)
The Desire to Retain the Old-Fashioned
I mentioned previously that entire novels can be read on digital devices, namely the Nook and the Kindle. Incidentally, I do a lot of personal writing. TL;DR I’m putting it out there: I indulge in fanfiction writing. You read it here first, traveler. There is nothing I love more than putting my OCs (usually one in particularSlide 2Slide 3Slide 4) into countless, fictitious situations either with more of my OCs or with pre-existing characters (and stringing together lore and fleshed out situations for the events in Musings Of).
Anime and cartoons have been my lifeblood since… forever, and they to this day sustain me. I bring this up because I have constantly found myself on the verge of printing various stories so I can read them in a “paperback” setting. I’ve always loved thumbing through pages. The crisp rustling of novel paper is ASMR to me.
Conversely, I find countless joy (and mischief) in highlighting digitized PDFs (yes, it’s me who’s doing the virtual highlighting) so that I may Cmd+F anything I need at a moment’s notice. Those fanfics I mentioned? I’ve started re-reading them in the Microsoft Word app during downtime as a temporary escape to those fictitious worlds. To give you a loose estimation of how much paper I would [very unfortunately] waste by printing them out to rifle through them physically, the total count of 6 stories combined would be 1,057 pages (and these fanfics aren’t even finished! I’m still working on them, albeit not at the moment).
Due to my inherent love for the physical and material, paperback and hardcover books are something I will fight tooth and nail over before giving up. My fiancé recently subscribed to Viz so he could read Jujutsu Kaisen after we binge-watched it. What did I do? I purchased the manga, like an archaic, old-world schlep. This gesture was two-fold, as I also have a fondness for collecting things (don’t talk to me about my literal bin of 2007-era Transformers figures, collectibles, and paraphernalia), but I also wanted to have hard copies to rifle through. I attempted to read through the manga on a third-party website, but all I was left with was confusion and a headache. I need to allow myself to read physical things physically, and digital things digitally. I need to start employing that differentiation.
Separation of Digital and Physical
I titled this post as a question. I, unfortunately, don’t have an answer — other than to, perhaps, employ a separation of the digital and the physical. What I’m trying to get across in this post is that I find joy in the old world artifacts, and I’m hoping we don’t lose them all forever. Or, if we do, I hope I’ll be long gone.
In reflecting on this article, I’ve come to miss my allure to the material. Selfish as it may be, I think we as humans deserve to spoil ourselves once in a while with something tangible — considering how ethereal, abstract, and intangible everything around us has become. They say that once you find something you love (or that’s worth fighting for), you should hold fast to it. Hang on tight. Allow yourself that selfish indulgence to have something to actually, physically, hold on to — and cherish it deeply.
You know that trinket you used to cling to? That doll you used to hold so fondly? That GameBoy game you guarded like Gollum’s precious Ring? (No? Take these templated responses and insert your own reality, traveler; I am merely a muse for the machinations of the universe.) Go find it if you can. Find the next best thing, if it’s not available. Hold it tightly. Allow it to tether you to your past, to indulge you in nostalgia of times since past. I’ll sit here, meanwhile, and cling to my manga books and further contemplate my dependence on my phone.