The superpower gift to stop
In that last Avengers movie, almost every superhero you adored disintegrated right before your eyes. What if that happened to your smartphone at times when you really have to pay attention and live?
Our smartphone is not the enemy. In fact, it has been our superhero. It is like a digital Swiss-knife with the evolving Pokémon powers. But do we really need a superhero holding our hand 24/7? In fact, do we really want a superhero to be with us round the clock? Imagine having your favorite superhero at your beck and call all the time. What would you lose?
If I had Thor or IronMan shadowing me all the time, I would have the biggest smile a woman’s face could ever sport. But I could also imagine that, after some time, I would find both men very annoying. But, most of all, I would lose command of my powers over my own life. It will be their show and that is not just sad, but tragic, because while their lives could have sequels, mine would not. I just get one chance. And I would want to be present in my own life.
The one thing that smartphones have taken away from us is the Stop Sign. This is especially true with the superpowers of social media apps. Because these apps max up and amplify the very powerful social human trait, it feels very natural for us to be constantly online and we just find it so irresistible and most difficult to stop engaging in it.
It is true that there are now apps that help you control your own screen time. But the cat has been out of the bag for some time and it has multiplied by orders of magnitude and all over the dimensions of our lives. Also, if we counted on that same superhero to remind us not to depend on it, it is like trusting a renowned thief to call your attention if you left your purse unattended. Social media apps are thieves of time.
We humans are such consummate social beings. We get all kinds of high – from joy to rage – when we link up not just with one but with an inordinate amount of people with their crimes and misdemeanors, problems, travels, bloopers, hairstyle, food trips, and so many other human tales. We just need to be among the eyes who need to view them and, for so many, have to have an opinion about them. We can do all these on our screens without ever having to be present in person to stare awkwardly at a child in tears, or to stand helplessly as someone dies.
But like our actual life that only has value because it ends, our social online connections only matter when we stop and see what they have got to do with our own real lives. The holidays are so ripe for making those “stop” signs that we can pitch in the highways that we make as we live our lives.
Adam Alter’s Ted Talk suggests that we design stopping cues and have them strewn all around our working and personal lives. He nailed it when he said that being online has gotten rid of the stop cues that were part of our pre-online lives. TV series shown on actual TVs actually ended after each show. They were not available on demand. News actually ended at the end of the page of a newspaper. It did not break all day long as they do now. An ex-boyfriend stopped sending you hate mail because he just got tired buying stamps to mail it which made him stop and notice a better lady for him and made him move on. These stop cues are now gone. But we can design new ones amid our digital lives.
One of the most hilarious things he cited was a work desk that simply gets pulled up automatically to the ceiling at a certain time no matter what you are doing on your laptop. Maybe scientists can figure out a way to make your entire phone (not just the apps) temporarily vanish if you find yourself spending too much time on social media amid clear and present chances to seize the days and nights, spending them with actual people. The phone would vanish just long enough for you to think about how much more enjoyable and meaningful it would be to stop and have coffee and bibingka with any one of those 5,000 FB friends later.
Stopping ironically enables us to move on. It does not get us stuck. Stopping enables us to say to ourselves that we have thought and done everything that we possibly could at this time about this human tale we are living or encountering, and we will now move on because that is the only chance we have at making it BETTER.
Social media has short-circuited our brains to make a planetary army of reactors of those on social media. But reacting is not the same as responding. Reacting pleases only YOUR own nerves – YOUR own beliefs, YOUR own feelings, YOUR own thing. It does not make better the thing you are reacting to. Responding is a careful, thoughtful, measured way to insert yourself in the conversation or in the tale so that the thing has a chance of being better. And it clearly includes an option for you to stop and reconsider if the opinion your will post or repost in FB or any of your chat groups really matters and if it would make the thing BETTER.
In this age where we are constantly on, the most powerful, life-changing gift could be merely “stopping.” It could be the most revitalizing gift you could give to yourself and others.
Merry Christmas. Stop. – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, Science Solitaire and Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.