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I will not wait for the world to crumble before I put down my phone

By Yra Luis Gener Gutierrez Published Jun 14, 2024 5:00 am

I have always been an introvert and a natural observer. I discovered this in elementary school. During breaks and dismissals, when I’m not with my friends, I sit on a bench and watch people go on with their day.

It’s not that I disliked sharing how my day went with others. I simply find solace in being alone and getting myself to live in my silly little world.

Sitting quietly on the train to university, I still find myself keen to observe people. A young gay couple is in front of me, busy talking and genuinely joyful despite being in a cramped car.

I recall the time I was at a park in Makati where two little girls were running around, their parents comfortably sitting on a bench. Minutes later, the kid in a purple dress stumbled and cried. Her father approached and said, “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

I’m also reminded of when I was at the library, swamped with schoolwork. The man at the table next to me, wearing a navy blue cap, was reading The Lightning Thief. Was this his first time reading Rick Riordan or was he rereading, in search of familiarity?

Having a device that allows me to access unprecedented amounts of information made me believe that staying online is the most important thing I could do.

People-watching grants us a certain degree of power. “We watch others to glean information about who they are,” researchers Barasz Kate and Kim Tami wrote in a Current Opinion in Psychology article. “We use cues (like) facial expressions to draw conclusions about others’ emotions, status, and preferences.”

Finding peace in quiet moments

While I agree, I also realize I am drawn to it because of a different kind of power: the ability to put down my phone to see how big and feel how real life is.

I was raised in a world where humans are compelled to use multiple screens synchronously. It’s a world where attention is a currency that capitalists exploit for profit.

It’s hard to disentangle myself from this system. I’m not the only one who picks up my phone when I’m bored. It admittedly gives me a sense of escapism from the realities of the world I live in.

Lost in the digital world.

While the world outside crumbled, there I was lying in bed, watching videos on TikTok.

Case in point, during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, I was forced to put down my compulsion to be constantly working. Yet when I thought I had the opportunity to sit and live presently, I found myself more eager to be on my phone and hyper-consume the content that social media platforms offer.

In her book How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell wrote, “Digital distraction was a bane, not because it made people less productive, but because it took them away from the one life they had to live.” I think of how many beautiful moments I missed because I’m a person conditioned to doomscroll. I’m doomed to conform to a capitalist world that deems me as data, not as a human.

Explore the importance of doing nothing in a busy world with 'How to Do Nothing' by Jenny Odell.

Well, I refuse to be a commodity.

Having a device that allows me to access unprecedented amounts of information made me believe that staying online is the most important thing I could do. Social media has conditioned me to always expect life to be exciting; everyone seems to constantly have something going on, and it’s hard not to seek out something similar for myself. I see my life as boring when it’s not, and it ruined my relationship with the intimacy of the ordinary and mundane.

On the way home from university, I watched a mother wearing a blue Superman shirt with a backpack and a shoulder bag, carrying her son before they got on the escalator. As she cradled him, she released a heavy sigh and kissed his forehead.

My first instinct was to take a picture and post it as an ode to the resilience of mothers. But I know better now than to impose such stories. I remind myself that I can still put away my phone and choose to live presently. Every person around me is a complex universe in themselves, just as I am. What a privilege to have the ability to connect with them.