I wanted to throw the phones into the ocean.

Thanksgiving morning we took our traditional hike in Acadia.  This year it was more of a walk – the Ocean Path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliffs to Otter Cove and back again.  It was a beautiful morning, bright sun shining and an ocean full of Common Eider Ducks and Grebes.  Thanksgivings were offered for many things, including theOcean Path in ANP visionaries who saw the value of a national park for Maine a century ago (Maine Congressional delegation please take note).

At Otter Cliffs two young women were sitting on the rocks, facing away from each other.  Both sat with heads bowed to the gods of technology, completely absorbed in small bright screens and oblivious to the beauty around them.  I wanted to run up, grab the phones, throw them into the Atlantic Ocean, and scream, “Wake up!  Look at all that you are missing with your heads buried in technological sand.”  I resisted the temptation.

Calmer reflection later made me remember what E.B. White wrote in the New Yorker magazine in 1948.  “Like radio, television hangs on the questionable theory that whatever happens anywhere should be sensed everywhere.  If everyone is going to be able to see everything, in the long run all things may lose whatever rarity values they once possessed, and it may well turn out that people, being able to see and hear everything, will be especially interested in almost nothing.”  I think White would have wanted to join me in the phone throwing.

We have become enslaved by a world of gadgets, pawns at the hands of billionaires who have convinced us to send them bags of money so that we become oblivious to the beauty of the world around us and to our fellow travelers on this planet, human and otherwise.  Worth is now measured by the numbers of social media connections we can make and our ability to produce an image or a phrase that goes “viral.”  Does the use of a disease metaphor here suggest anything to you?

Speaking of disease, we even now have a named disease for the anxiety of being out of mobile phone contact – nomophobia.

What concerns me the most about what I saw in Acadia is how technology is separating us from reality – the reality of nature and the reality of each other.  One of the best expositions of this problem is Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.  Louv shows convincingly how our modern technological society is creating what he calls a “nature deficit disorder” in children. The need we have that our so-called friends see our selfies compels us to endorse their selfies in hopes that they will reciprocate.  This narcissism trumps the stunning beauty of Acadia National Park on a sunny morning in late November.

I am not so naive as to think smart phone technology and the internet are going away from modern society.  The financial pressures alone are too great.  Imagine a Christmas season without the ability of retailers to hawk the latest gadgets and convince Americans that they are going to be unhappy without them.  But allow me to make a few modest suggestions for Mainers to show that we are not fully duped by Silicon Valley.

  1. Make a point each day of knowing what phase the moon is in and try to find it sometime during the day, particularly during daylight hours.  No app is necessary to do this.
  2. Learn one constellation (Orion is a good one to start with) and follow it throughout the year. If there is too much light in your neighborhood to see the constellations at night, ask yourself why you and your neighbors let this happen.
  3. Learn one new bird song next summer so that you can identify that bird both by sight and by sound. The white throated sparrow is a delight.
  4. Buy two copies of a great book you enjoy and give one to a young person. Suggest that you read it at the same time and then sit down and talk about the book.
  5. See how much your local school district relies on laptop computers at the expense of face-to-face communication among teachers and students.
  6. Take a news holiday, maybe just one day at first. The world went on without you before you were born, so one day without following every news story won’t end the world.  Try it for a week and you will actually feel healthier.
  7. Hold on now for this one: take a day without your smart phone, social media connections, email (if you are that archaic), internet, etc. It is OK if someone calls and you don’t answer.  Twitter will survive without you and some people may actually be relieved that you did not post another selfie.  Maybe you can take the time you save to connect with people in authentic ways rather than virtually.
  8. Take a friend to lunch and turn your phones off, really off, and just talk with another human being, face to face. The connection will be more meaningful than the ones with your internet “friends.”
  9. Finally, walk from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff. Maybe I’ll see you there.  We can watch a Guillemot fishing in the deep water off the rocks and wonder about the miracles of the Earth.  If we are patient and watchful we’ll see their bright red feet in the sparkling water.  We won’t need to take a picture with a phone or post anything to a Facebook page.  We can simply store the image in that old computer between our ears.
Mark W. Anderson

About Mark W. Anderson

I am proud to be a Mainer, born in Caribou and schooled at Brewer High School, Bowdoin College, and the University of Maine. I am grateful for a 35 year career at UMaine, the last decade in the School of Economics.