Smartphones and Death
Earlier this month noted political blogger Andrew Sullivan had an essay in New York Magazine, where he talked about leaving the Internet and social media for his health.
Sullivan talks about our recent change as a society to being constantly plugged into the Internet, and how the proliferation of smartphones has profoundly changed our public spaces over the last five years. Instead of having real-life interactions, we have social media. Instead of having phone calls, we have Instagram posts. Nowadays we don’t grumble together in post office lines and we make fewer new friends waiting for movies to start.
Leaving the Alamo South Lamar late this past weekend, I heard an interview with Sullivan on the BBC. Sullivan discussed how our constant smartphone distraction removed your chance to be bored, which might lead you think about how you are on a ball of rock hurdling through space, and that someday you will die.
It’s curious for me to be thinking about this while I’m at Fantastic Fest, a genre film festival that is all about films about death, people dying, and all the ways that one can die, as well as films about the afterlife. It’s a niche festival for a reason.
For me Fantastic Fest is all about posting on social media as much as possible about the festival films and seeing what indie director cares about what I wrote about their film.
In doing this I also see many people’s micro experiences with the more famous of humans at the festival, something that I find myself doing as well.
When I quickly popped up out of my seat to let film critic Leonard Maltin out of my row at a screening of the great Irish film “The Young Offenders” I made sure to let everyone know about it. When Korean director Park Chan-wook brushed me on his way past at the US Premiere of “The Handmaiden,” I was inspired to tweet about the thrill of the hem of his jacket touching me. I was sad I missed taking a red carpet picture of still buff 80s action-star Dolph Lundgren (who played Soviet Boxer Ivan Drago in the Rocky films) but since he looked me in the eye and asked me how I was doing, I had to share it.
Tweeting about my tiny interactions with the famous emphasizes that it’s the space between us as people that matter. This is something that I’ve been thinking of since I went to the Burning Man camping festival in Nevada earlier this month.
Burning Man had cell phone coverage this year, but its remoteness meant I was only willing to pay for data to keep in touch with people I deeply care about. During my trip back from the desert, I left my mobile phone on the bus. While waiting for my phone to be mailed back to me, I continued to be disconnected from the Internet in a way I haven’t been in years. That experience of being mostly unplugged for weeks changed me. I’m noticing how constantly everyone is plugged into the Internet and how it isn’t doing us any good.
In the crowd at like-minded movie-goers at Fantastic Fest I find myself looking around for someone to chat with…and nearly everyone has a face buried in a screen.
This screen-based way of life can’t continue. We’re missing out on all the real-life interactions we used to have, and the world is so much poorer for it. I’m so done with spending time with people who are half-glued to their personal screens, taking part in their own digital world while you are standing right there, telling a great story that gets interrupted by a message from afar. It’s so bad that I now enjoy waiting for my luggage in customs when I come back into the country, because the arrival hall at customs and immigration is one of the few spaces where there is no cell phone coverage, and people still talk to each other.
As the many deaths in the films of Fantastic Fest remind us, no one gets out of this life alive. But maybe we need to put our phones down and really start living.
Fantastic Fest continues through Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar