Gone a day without using your smartphone lately? Ever notice how frequently your hand compulsively reaches for your phone during a lag in conversation with friends? Wonder why people feel the need to document everything and how that affects their experiences?
Source: Flickr user messicanbeer
What people are starting to realize is that they're missing out on many aspects of life — often the most important and valuable ones — because mobile devices are everywhere. That the drive for technological efficiency (what is social media but more efficient ordering and access to friends?) detracts from a whole field of human interaction and experience. It is simply not possible to document and fully experience something at the same time.
There's a solution for this, however. Philosopher of technology Albert Borgmann coined the term "device paradigm" to explain the problems associated with these modern devices, and the term "focal events" or "focal practices" as a potential remedy. These are things and experiences that have nothing whatsoever to do with technological efficiency. Things where the very ideas of increased speed, availability, or reduced price have no importance at all.
Instead, they get their value from people experiencing them in their purest form. Live music is a perfect example. As the writer Alan Watts said, "Would playing a melody quicker enhance your enjoyment of it?" Practices such as playing an instrument, communal gatherings, hiking, cooking, and biking also fall into this category. There is no "goal" that you could arrive at with improved technological capabilities.
As usual, artists have been the first to notice this issue. Performers like Hannibal Buress, Jack White, Mumford & Sons, and ZHU have banned or discouraged phone use at their live shows. As anyone who has been to a phone-free show can attest, not having phones present makes a difference. It allows people to be swept up into a shared mood with each other and the music. That's what makes live music so uniquely enjoyable.
Of course, smartphones aren't all bad. They have obvious utility, and in some instances, their negative effect may be minimal or there may be no effect at all. In others, like live music, the need to instantly capture and share content detracts from everyone's experiences. Stepping behind the lens, even for a moment, alters your relation to the thing documented. You are no longer in the experience. You are outside of it.
Besides distractions, constant documentation violates another unspoken, universal rule of human social life: the ability to be ourselves without fearing that our actions will be posted on the Internet or become a viral video. Being social requires some degree of personal privacy in the public sphere.
The general angst people feel about the role of modern technology — a sea of smartphones at a concert, your spouse texting throughout dinner, children glued to iPads — means something is out of balance. Successfully integrating new technology into our lives requires new solutions. That's what Yondr is.
Yondr creates phone-free spaces — anywhere, anytime.
Our first product is a phone case that allows people to maintain possession of their phones while preventing usage inside a defined area. Think smoking vs. nonsmoking sections for the Digital Age. Yondr provides spaces where people can temporarily unplug. Where you can dance like a fool and not show up on YouTube the next day. Where memories are lived instead of documented.
Graham Dugoni is the founder and CEO of Yondr.