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Matt Cunningham NT News: Put down your smartphone


WHAT was sold as the new world of technology is just making us anti-social workaholics. MATT CUNNINGHAM tells us was he thinks about smartphones and our oblivion to the real world that is quietly passing us by >>

The family of five sits around the breakfast table.

Heads down, eyes fixed.

They’re at least 4000km from home — on holiday in Bali — yet they remain the same short distance from their usual existence.

Each staring mindlessly into a pocket-sized screen just inches from their face, that has developed a zombie-like control over their brains.

Before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in the early days of the internet age, there was an online game called Second Life.

It was a place where you could try to live the life you perhaps hadn’t quite achieved in the real world.

While it didn’t really take off, it’s creators must look back and wonder how drastically they’d underestimated the potential to create a digital version of life that could compete with the real thing.

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Today, for many of us, this world has become not a second life, but a primary one.

The family on their Bali holiday are but one example of the way our screens are taking over our lives.

These virtual lives are taking priority over the real thing that still exists, if we’d only take the time to lift our eyes and see it.

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Even on holiday our focus has shifted.

We once went to foreign countries or spectacular places to take in a sight we might get to see just once or twice in a lifetime.

Now it seems more important to take the picture and post it online, waiting in anticipation for the likes and comments that will follow, our eyes fixed to the phone, our backs turned to the very thing that drew us to this place to begin with.

I say we for I’m as guilty as any when it comes to this vice.

I’ve even sought professional help to try to overcome the control it has at times taken over me.

media_cameraAs Metallica sang, “And nothing else matters.” Picture: iStock

My first smartphone came about 10 years ago.

It was a BlackBerry, complete with a Qwerty keyboard and the life-changing ability to be able to access emails anywhere at any time.

At first I thought this a godsend.

No more hanging back at the office waiting for that response to be emailed so I could finish a story.

No worries if you were out of the office and needed to send someone a message.

How good was this? How wrong we were.

That little device that once sat in our pocket and rang when someone wanted to talk to us, now controls us with all the effect of a ball-and-chain on a 1800s convict.

Social media has only made things worse, creating habits that become addictions.

My digital heroin was Twitter.

A mindless social media platform full of attention seekers feigning outrage to prove their moral superiority.

I’ve always told myself I need Twitter for work. To keep abreast of all that’s happening as it happens.

I found myself becoming more pissed off every time I looked at it, yet for some strange reason I couldn’t look away.

I’ve since discovered Twitter at some point included an algorithm that sent tweets it thought would most interest you to the top of your feed.

As I had a habit of clicking on those tweets that annoyed me, more and more of these were appearing at the top of my feed.

This little blue bird was driving me insane.

Last week I did something radical.

I put the phone away.

Being on holidays overseas made it easier but I made a conscious effort to disconnect.

My phone has spent most of the past 10 days alone in a hotel room. It’s been a liberating experience.

I’ve paid hawkers on the streets of Bali far too much for hard copies of day-old Australian newspapers but have been rewarded with a variety of stories from a range of different perspectives.

I watched my son conquer his fear of Asia’s tallest waterslide.

I helped my daughter learn to surf.

I read a book, the title of Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe alone more interesting than anything I’ve read in a decade on Twitter.

I felt the rain in my back and smelt the salt in the air.

I observed the world around me, something journalists did more in the days before social media.

And everywhere I looked I noticed people face down, eyes fixed, obsessed by that bright little screen, and oblivious to the real world that’s quietly passing them by.



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