Total inaction on climate change. Growing disparity between rich and poor. Decreasing supplies of dill pickle relish. Perhaps, tuned-in reader, you too have wondered why the revolution – any revolution – has yet to materialize in our time. Castles were stormed over far less in epochs past. What stops us from rising up?
That was a rhetorical question. We all know there’s a conspiracy afoot, so far-reaching and ubiquitous as to be invisible. The forces colluding to hold us down are neither shadowy nor violent. They make no threats, suppress no thought. And yet they’ve done more in recent years to quell any potential change than the most fearsome tyrant ever could. What’s more, we pay for this service – over a hundred bucks a month in some cases, depending on our data plan.
I’m talking about our smartphones, duh, instruments of such ceaseless poking and swiping and scanning that insurgent thoughts no longer have space to grow. Okay, hand-wringing about their hold on our attention is probably as annoying as the devices themselves. But the political and social implications of our digital absorption still seem under-explored, right? Maybe they’re so basic as to feel unremarkable: Spare moment in line at the drugstore? Sure, we might reflect on ways the community could come together to throw out our crooked representative…or we could mess around with that new camera app. Frustrated over some corporation’s human rights record abroad? We could write a letter…or just listen to that podcast we’ve got all loaded up.
According to one study, smartphone users spend an average of 128 minutes on their phones each day. That’s two hours that would’ve been spent entirely differently just a few years ago. Here lies the conspiracy, of course. “Snacking,” as the industry now calls it, is big business. Every time we play a game, watch a video or surf the Internet, ad dollars change hands. From a business standpoint, that’s far preferable to someone sitting around forming thoughts.
Remember when the digital revolution was initially touted as a tool for social change? The flow of information and communication was going to facilitate justice up the yin-yang. And sure, it does happen from time to time – think Tahrir Square. But I’d wager that would-be revolutions, small and large, are far more often blunted by our device addiction. I’d be curious to hear whether anyone has thoughts on how you’d measure such a thing, or for that matter change it. There an app for that?
Chris Colin is the award-winning author of “Blindsight,” published by the Atavist and named one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011. Read his work at www.chriscolin.com.