Will Smartphones Be Banned In Public Places? These Places Are Leading The Shift

August 16, 2019

Smoking was once socially acceptable everywhere from inside the office to the most respectable of restaurants, but look at how the times have changed. It’s a perfect example of us doing our research and coming to our senses, and I wonder if smartphones will take a similar arc over the coming years. An ever-increasing number of studies and anecdotal stories document their impact on our quality of life, from the effects on mental health to the way our social lives are shifting, to the cultural faux pas we make during our travel. The question is: Can we learn to loosen our grip on our devices for some greater good?

I won’t pretend for one minute that I’m not immensely grateful for the myriad ways my phone helps me do life; from the apps that allow me to stay connected, to the ones that remind me to switch off every now and then, my phone feels very much like an extension of myself and I’m sure I’m not alone in describing the relationship as such. For the majority of us, our phones are with us day and night: serving as an alarm clock at dawn right through to the sleep app we drift off to long after dusk.

Technically, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with this intense interconnectedness; provided—of course—that no detrimental effects result from it. But that’s the grey area. I think most of us are acutely aware of the demons that can take the shape of social media addiction, orthorexia, orthosomnia, sleep deprivation and disconnected relationships; for many of us, though, we sort of feel like there’s no way around it.

The problem is that the line between personal and profession life becomes blurred when the phone is such an integral part of our daily doings. We finish up at the office ready to head to a concert, check the emails en route, then switch from outlook to the camera to watch the show entirely through our screens. And let’s be honest: while they’ve come a long way, photos taken on a phone ain’t got nothing on those captured by a professional lurking side stage with an SLR and zoom lens.

But it’s not the photos we really care about, is it? We won’t look back at them. No, it’s the social points. Can we tell the world via our Insta-story that we’re cool and fun to hang out with and like good music so please look at us and how great a time we’re having? We damn well seem to try.

I see a lot of live music and there’s nothing that causes me more frustration than the distraction of a sea of screens between me and the artist I’ve been waiting to see. No matter how into it I am, my eyes can’t help but periodically flick between the different phones. Don’t even get me started on the iPads…

Whilst it’s somewhat of a rarity, it’s refreshing when artists make it clear from the get go that phones are not welcome. Some of them make a profound claim about how disconnected we are from our real lives, while others laugh and joke, keeping it light-hearted and encouraging us to enjoy the present. Either way, it makes for a much more fulfilling experience; instead of the posed photos and fifty repeated attempts at nailing the perfect Boomerang, people actually tune in to the lyrics, have a bit of a dance and give their thumbs a much-needed rest.

Jack White made the news when he banned phones at his concerts and I couldn’t have been happier to read about it. Finally—someone well-known who might just be able to help shift the industry and encourage the masses to hold live music experiences sacred. The Lumineers have also done the same in the past.

Now, before you write it off as wholly unnecessary and pretentious, hear me out. Being immersed in live music from time to time is incredibly healing for the brain (and soul). Take, for instance, this study that describes how music synchronizes brain waves, captivating listeners and theoretically allowing us to reconnect with one another over a common,very sensory, experience. Another study found that music improves social communication by boosting brain activity. So, if we’re to get the most from our concerts, maybe it’s best to start paying attention sans smartphones.

From the gig to the golden shores of Bali, I hope that more vacation spots take a leaf out of the Ayana Resort’s book and ban phones from the poolside to promote relaxation over capturing the perfect Instagram shot. Guests are encouraged to swim, read, and simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings with each other rather than becoming easily distracted by the unnecessary that plagues their phones.

It all comes down to prioritizing the collective experience, if more of us are to get onboard with resort bans. Much like the aforementioned connectedness many of us hope for when we book those gig tickets, we need to pause for a moment to consider what it is that we seek when we take ourselves on vacation for those couple weeks of the year. For many of us with stressful jobs and too many days immersed in to-do lists and emails, those couple weeks of the year are precious. And let’s be honest, even if your family have their phones locked up, it’s distracting having others posing for one photo after another, or yelling loudly through the mouthpiece due to a dodgy connection.

There’s also the added concern about what’s captured in those poolside photographs in addition to the main subject. While I have no issues with my body, who says that I want my pasty limbs captured on someone else’s film forever? It raises a greater issue about our flagrant lack of consideration for the privacy of others; furthermore, the disrespect for those living in cultures where the idea of being captured on film can be incredibly offensive. Take, for example, some Native American beliefs that photographs steal the very essence of a person. Call me a cynic, but I suspect that most of us venturing around the world have the whip-out-the-phone-and-snap movement so ingrained into our reflexes that pausing for even a moment to consider that plenty of folks have an issue with it is out of the question.

Like most things, it’s all a learning curve and one that we’re very much still trying to comprehend. However, just because our phones don’t contain toxic tar and carbon monoxide and—on the contrary—allow us to do marvelous things like figure our way out of a traffic jam doesn’t mean that they are without their flaws. With the ability to rewire our neural circuits and cause damage that can’t be undone in our most precious relationships, I’m making a conscious effort to pay closer attention every day to the ways mine hinders rather than helps and I encourage you to do so too. Where can we cut back and refine?

Oh, and next time you’re at that concert, try throwing some shapes on the dance floor instead; I guarantee it’ll make the night a hundred times more memorable. At the end of the day, that’s really all that matters anyway, isn’t it?

What are your thoughts on the ways that phone use might change in the coming years?

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Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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