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Digital Resentment

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.


1 Charlotte { 03.08.16 at 7:47 am }

Hmmm. So in a doctor’s office I always take “no cell phone usage” as implying no talking on one and am always using mine to text and browse and anything that’s quiet and non-disturbing.

I clicked over and checked out the article…I kind of love this bookstore. I love how it’s just books, and I love how they have arranged the books in unconventional categories. I also kind of love it being no technology. His point is to try to make his bookstore an unplugged experience, not just picked up the latest Stephen King, which even the article notes that those people would be just ordering from Amazon. This brick and mortar bookstore is trying to do something unique. And I would bet it is going to be super popular once it catches on.
My feeling in the whole thing is it is his store, so he can make his rules. He is not trying to appeal to the masses or else he would offer free wifi and souped up coffee drinks. If I don’t agree with a shop owners rules/policies I just don’t patronize.
Certainly if I ever owned a store I would expect to have my own personal philosophy policies. That’s what makes the small business owned shops unique and something I wouldn’t want changed. It’s their right to have them just as its everyone else’s right to choose to patronize…or not.
I don’t think he is trying to be judgemental, rather creating a store he would like to see and spend time in, and is betting a lot of other people feel that way, too.

2 TasIVFer { 03.08.16 at 8:12 am }


3 katherinea12 { 03.08.16 at 8:31 am }

The other day, I was reading about the sort of twitter storm that ensued after someone photographed peeled oranges in a container at Who.le Foo.ds. The person thought this was silly, lazy, and wasteful – and it got enough views and such that the store is pulling the product. However, a friend of mine posted an interesting push-back from a woman with disabilities – among them a lack of hand/finger dexterity – that talked about how a product like this made oranges actually *accessible* to her. It was a totally different perspective that I hadn’t considered at all, being able to easily peel oranges myself.

I think the debate over technology can be similar. I find it interesting that this bookshop owner lives in London – a large urban center with a diverse population and large amounts of basic and esoteric consumer goods readily available. I now live in a slightly larger city, but spent most of my life living in a fairly rural areas, and for me, that technology has at times been vital. I almost laughed when I read the advice after I was first diagnosed with infertility to find a support group – fine advice, mind you, but not easily available without driving around an hour! The internet was absolutely helpful in that regard.

In other words, what works for me may not work for someone else. Perhaps better to listen to individuals as individuals and not tar something in general as “good” or “bad”…

4 Valery Valentina { 03.08.16 at 9:53 am }

I love xkcd too!

5 Ana { 03.08.16 at 10:14 am }

I both agree with the bookshop owner’s right to engineer whatever type of atmosphere he wants in his shop and your argument that there is implicit judgement in his decision. I tend to hate those types of edicts, especially when they relate to parenting (those “put your cellphone away and watch your daughter twirl, mama” articles that were making the rounds a while back). I read about a coffee shop or restaurant that had a similar rule, and it ticked me off. What if I was there by myself, just enjoying an hour of drinking coffee and catching up on blogs?
I also get chafed by the general “rule” that books>internet (and both are >>TV). I love books, read a LOT, but don’t kid anyone that it doesn’t allow the same kind of escapism as browsing pictures on instagram or reading about a stranger’s daily routine on her blog.

6 andy { 03.08.16 at 10:40 am }

does the book store only accept cash? has he also banned the technology of debit and credit cards? Do they read by candle light? does he have a large dog that he leaves on the premises at night instead of a security system? What an odd thing to ban for a very odd reason………

7 illustr8d { 03.08.16 at 11:20 am }

I am of two minds about the bookstore. I left my phone home the other day, and so I couldn’t call my brother to see if he owned a couple of (in this case) DVD sets that I found & knew he would want. I ended up buying them, but it was an inner struggle. I want to be able to make those calls. 5 minutes of do-you-want. The bookstore version of do we need peanut butter?

OTOH, it reminds me of Luke’s, from the Gilmore Girls. I have known people in the past who hate tech, who miss terribly the fact that we’d walk in to a cafe or bookshop & talk to one another, or sit quietly in a corner reading. Having JUST had to listen to a very, very loud one-sided phone conversation in coffeeshop by someone who thought he was a wheeler-dealer, I’m feeling very warm towards the whole Luke no-phones thing at the moment. And I miss that as well. And sometimes I worry that we have an entire generation who won’t know how to make small talk with each other, where it may create a small crack that allows for a tiny bit of kindness and compassion. I worry that all our screen time (which I love, don’t get me wrong here) means that we are isolating each other and ourselves are missing out.

Maybe some day we’ll have community cafes where we check our mobiles at the door and go with the idea to chat with each other.

8 illustr8d { 03.08.16 at 11:24 am }

katherinea12, I’m in the position where I have disabilities where my hands don’t work correctly sometimes. I’m lucky enough to be able to (usually) peel tangelos or clementines (the skin is easier to get off than on oranges) but I saw those peeled fruits and thought that if my hands get worse, it would allow me to eat them. While at the same time wishing that I wasn’t in a position to use waste such as plastic in that way. I so relate to that woman who gave the push-back.

9 Cristy { 03.08.16 at 12:41 pm }

This is the million dollar question: “why are we so concerned about how other people are living their lives…?” It’s one to contemplate.

Part of it has to do with the fact that there are boundaries others constantly bump up against. The pendulum has certainly swung a bit far in one direction with new technology and there needs to be some education reintroducing etiquette (eg people having loud, long conversations about private matters in public places or texting while driving).

But I think you’re also touching on an idea of people policing one another. That one crowd is perceived as getting away with something and the other feels a need to push back. It happens with every generation. But I rarely hear those who are pushing back give a rational justification for why. It’s usually pretty emotional.

10 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.08.16 at 3:07 pm }

I read your post this morning and thought, yes, the libertarian in me agrees with you.

And then I read Charlotte’s comment and agree with her point that perhaps he is, “creating a store he would like to see and spend time in.”

It’s midday and I’m still turning the issue over in my mind.

11 Chris { 03.08.16 at 4:57 pm }

Personally, I would hate that and vote with my dollars- I’d never set foot in someplace that required I not use my phone. 1) I keep all my lists of what we need what I’ve read etc on my cell phone. I have a nerve disease and haven’t been able to write in years, all my lists are electronic. Also, I get messaged from work regularly. I can’t stay home 24/7 (although sometimes it seems that way), so I’d vote with my dollars and shop elsewhere. If I want a tech free zone I’ll turn things off- but that won’t happen in my world.

12 nicoleandmaggie { 03.08.16 at 6:06 pm }

I would assume that the bookstore owner didn’t want people checking the price difference and ordering on amazon after manhandling the merchandise. No matter what his stated reason is.

13 Raven { 03.09.16 at 11:02 am }

I am of two minds. I get and respect their right to open whatever store they want – and there is nothing like connect with the leather bindings and paper smell in your soul and undistracted – but why is technology suddenly such a bad thing these days? Without it we wouldn’t have most of the medicine we have, most of the tests, surgeries, vehicles, tools, disability supports, services, etc. etc.

It’s not technology that’s bad – it’s spending all your time glued to it (or anything for that matter). So they’re blaming technology when really it’s addiction that’s detrimental…which I think we all already know!

14 Mali { 03.09.16 at 11:09 pm }

Ooh, lots of good comments. I agree with you, I agree with Charlotte that it’s the owner’s choice, and I agree with nicoleandmaggie. Much like some cafes here that won’t offer “trim” milk (low fat milk) lattes, because the baristas say that the coffee is better with full fat milk. It’s their choice, and if they gain or lose custom, then that’s the choice of their consumers too.

I’d probably be more inclined to frequent a bookstore with a cellphone ban, as I like being able to check out from technology from time to time … unless of course I was waiting to meet someone, and needed to get a text/call to find them.

15 Battynurse { 03.09.16 at 11:48 pm }

I recently went to a small eating establishment at the beach, only place to eat, store/burger sort of place with signs saying no cellphone or computer use. I didn’t ask why but it bothered me. If I was there by myself which is a real possibility, why do they care if I’m reading or playing a game on my phone or iPad.

16 illustr8d { 03.10.16 at 10:39 am }

So turns out screentime is a mixed blessing, socially. In my (admittedly very quick) search, I found this Atlantic article. It’s interesting. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/01/the-socially-anxious-generation/384458/

17 Jess { 03.10.16 at 7:36 pm }

I agree with Charlotte on this one… I do find that I am more present when my phone is off (although it’s never off, what with the whole adoption wait and all) or not accessible, and more likely to be focused on my surroundings and what I’m doing…which is maybe what the owner of the bookshop is looking for people to rediscover. It does seem very all-or-nothing, unlike restaurants that are giving incentives for putting your phones in a box, but not saying that you can’t have your phone out. Although it makes me very sad when I see people out with their families or friends or spouses and everyone’s face is consumed with the blue glow of a phone screen. I guess his store policy will appeal very much to some people, and turn others off. I do agree with illustr8ted that that whole checking to see if you have or want something is a nice convenience of cell phones — I have the Keep app on my phone and keep a list of books I want to read on it, so I guess I would have to resort to the tiny notebook in my purse in this particular store. And if I needed to call someone I could step outside. I personally do find that there is a big difference between reading a book and scrolling on a phone, and for me, I have seen a definite decrease in my attention span since the smartphone came into my life. I think I’d like this bookstore. But I could see how it would feel like forced behavior modification if you disagree.

18 Charlotte { 03.11.16 at 8:58 pm }

So I had to come back and tell you this. I was in my local CVS today when a lady walks in talking on her cellphone ON SPEAKER PHONE. I did a double take but then gave her the benefit of the doubt like “maybe she’s just doing that getting into the store balancing purse, keys, ect.” But no, she stayed on speakerphone for at least the 15 minutes I was in the store. And she was a 40 or 50 year old adult woman. Oh man. I SO wanted to ask her if the person she was talking to knew she was on speakerphone in the middle of a store at 3 in the afternoon on a Friday. It’s not even the point that we don’t know the person. I didn’t end up saying anything because I didn’t have time to deal with a confrontation, and I looked a hot mess with no sleep and rumpled clothes from taking care of puking kids and bleaching everything in site for the past 24 hours. But this is what is wrong with the Digital era. People forget boundaries and common courtesy and act just plain ridiculous. Once at a local sit down restaurant for breakfast, the people at the next table were watching something on their phone together. Put the phone in the middle of the table and had the volume at full blast, no headphones. So yeah. When people do stuff like this, I will be judgey as hell.

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