I just realized that I resent being told not to use my cell phone. I don’t mean in a doctor’s office, where privacy is of utmost importance and it’s easier to ban the phone vs. certain activities on the phone, or in the library where usage may bother other patrons. Actually, our library just tells people to put their phone on silent when they enter. But movie theaters or regular theaters or school buildings; truly, none of that bothers me.
But I resent mobile bans that are constructed to pass judgment.
The article that raised my hackles was about a bookstore that banned mobile devices. Not because they bothered other patrons or because they were worried about people taking photos of every page in the book instead of buying a copy. But because the store owner is overwhelmed by technology and therefore believes that everyone else is overwhelmed by technology, too. And therefore, because we cannot detach from our devices on our own accord, we need people like this bookstore owner to create mobile-free zones.
He states: “And there’s this growing awareness, quite mainstream now in this community, that being in front of your screen the whole time, being plugged into digital technology the whole time, isn’t great for your happiness or your creativity.”
I agree with him in the sense that doing anything all the time is not great for your happiness or creativity, and that includes reading books. Like the books he sells in his bookstore. Keeping your nose in a book and not experiencing the world around you is detrimental to your happiness and creativity. Unless it’s not, since you are probably a better judge of your own happiness and creativity.
I love this XKCD comic that depicts all the fears we’ve had over the ages about the ways people are ruining their lives. Whether it is books, newspapers, magazines, televisions, Walkmans, or phones, we’ve repeated the same argument over and over again. People are worried that other people are not focusing on the world around them enough.
But here is the real question: why are so we concerned about how other people are living their lives vs. focusing on ourselves and letting other people focus on obtaining their own happiness?
Listen, there are plenty of good reasons to ban mobile technology, especially when its usage affects the people around the user. But I don’t need to be told when to not use a phone just because someone else thinks it’s detrimental to my creativity. The bookstore sounds like a lovely place, and if I was ever seeking a mobile-free space, it sounds like the perfect place to go. But let’s just admit that his decision is marked by judgment: that distraction by book is good and distraction by phone is bad. And I just can’t get behind that way of thinking.