Social interactions are strange.
I’m at a party attempting a conversation with someone who is more interested in staring at the illuminated rectangle hovering over their crotch.
I lamely lift a chunk of avocado towards my mouth as my friend insists on taking a boomerang before we begin eating. I’m thinking of how I would like to fling the forkful in her face. The waiter is thinking of how people like us make him despise his job.
I’m watching my favourite band Mildlife play at The Nightcat wondering why the person in front of me has paid $30 to absorb their epic space jazz through her phone screen.
I’m on the dance floor and everyone seems distracted, heads darting around like nervous meerkats, bodies hesitantly trying to keep time. This is a group of people very aware their bodies are likely to end up on numerous Instagram stories.
Put the f***ing thing down!
When I check myself, when I take a moment to sit with the strange anxiety I feel when separated from my phone I consider the strange dystopia we’re living in. A world of continuous partial attention, where everyone seems to be distracted all the time, where simply experiencing something is not enough. We need physical proof of it, a well-documented feed of our glittery adventures.
We’re kind of like Pavlov’s dogs. Conditioned to salivate at anything associated with the validation of the allusive ‘like’ – those little red hearts of pseudo-pleasure that are as hollow as they are seductive.
We drool at the thought of a pre-drinks shot in front of the perfect backdrop, an epic sunset, a pumping dance floor.
It’s like our brains are being hijacked.
Do you want to know what makes these moments of fun way less fun? Feeling an obligation to share them with the world. Removing ourselves from an experience to curate those effortlessly witty captions and spending hours periodically monitoring how they’re received.
You ACTUALLY had to be there
I’m in a constant war with the weekly screen time report my phone delivers to me. I am determined to reduce it each week until it reaches a number that does not leave me humiliated at how ineffectively I use my time.
It all started when a passionate musician and good friend, threw a phone free party for his birthday. He encouraged all those attending to leave our devices in our homes, cars, bags, to just be present with each other and focus on the music. These gatherings have grown in popularity and now occur several times a year in a Melbourne sharehouse, with friends and strangers commenting on how epic and refreshing the experience is.
To these parties the phrase ‘you had to be there’ actually applies and from attending them I’ve being able to put my finger on a few things:
- Phones act as a shield at social gatherings. Without them we can’t retreat to the refuge of our screens when unable to find our footing in a conversation or waiting alone at the bar for our drinks. We have to own our awkwardness and discomfort, step out of our comfort zone or maybe just realise it’s okay to exist without constant stimulation.
- It gets real. It’s no secret that social media is highly performative and it’s existence often makes it hard for intimacy to exist and inhibitions to be shaken. I want the safe space of a phone-free dance floor. Give me the giant bouncing tits, body fluids and dilating pupils. Let that liberated energy permeate the room.
- It allows people to forget about space and time. To stop worrying about the missed deadlines, overdrawn bank accounts, crumbling relationships and just celebrate the moment.
- Completely immersing in an experience can spark creation. German illustrator Felix Scheinberger demonstrates this by taking his sketchbook inside Berlin’s most hedonistic club, Berghain. With a strict no photos policy, Felix records the scenes, pictures, and outfits he sees with a marker, creating a magical visual diary of the underground techno scene. I love seeing people shooting rolls of film at parties, without the potential for instant shareability the photos become about capturing a moment in time, the essence of an experience.
Whether it’s the bouncers at Berghain or a friend organising a party, I have a deep appreciation for the people that encourage us to unplug.