Your Phone or your Partner?

By Niamh Collins

“If you had to make a choice between your phone or your partner, who would you choose? … wait… don’t answer that.”

After reading a rather hard hitting article by the New York Times, I felt it only right to pass this question along. It is, after all, a rather breathtaking one. Who would have thought ten years ago this little piece of (albeit expensive) 1 and a half inch, by 4 inch piece of a lightweight combination of metal and glass would be the arsenic to our relationships? It needs no reiteration that we are ‘addicted’ to technology. However, I along with the majority of smartphone users I’m sure will contest to the fact, this statement is about as loaded and influential as a damp dishrag. Much like our willingness to consume the sugar we know is destroying us, drink alcohol’s that are corroding our livers, and a far more modern addiction, live with the phones that we… well… we don’t quite know how will affect our brains and health in 20 years time. We seem as a society to simply prefer to ignore this than address the issue. What better way to mentally dispel such threats than loading up a mind distraction on this portable electronic manual of ‘making yourself more connected by being disconnected’, or, even more simply, ‘make yourself less bored.’? For that is why we do this, is it not? Because we are terrified of having 30 seconds alone with merely ourselves. What might we find in a room alone with merely the twiddling of thumbs and contemplation to pacify us? Terrifying.

So, if ‘addiction’ rhetoric is not going to rescue us, what possibly can? I fear, in truth, we are too far gone. Weening the growing population, who use a smartphone like another limb, off such a device will be like weening drug abusers off substances. I imagine in 10 years time we will see the emergence of smartphone rehabs, and I might check myself in… if I wasn’t so concerned that I may miss that order update or work email, or even merely a text from a friend that if I do not reply to will seem rude. An excuse of ‘sorry I didn’t have my mobile on me’ seems disingenuous in this modern culture. But enough of future predictions. I am by no means a preacher, mainly because I will forever practice what I preach (or at least attempt to) and to suggest that people should toss these little mines of information in the Pacific whilst I gorge on whatever electronic feast I wake up to, seems vastly hypocritical. The addiction argument is outdated and not working… but maybe this will. If this one doesn’t hit home, then nothing ever will.

‘If you had to make a choice between your phone or your partner, who would you choose?’, this is what the New York Times have been asking its devoted readership this afternoon and the results are, as anticipated, a mixed bag. Many have used this a platform to leap in passionate argument of the disruption of mobile phones, others have suggested they should be outlawed, many have defended their little brain boxes and others clearly don’t think much of their partners conversation skills. Why have the opinion of one individual when you can get thousands, and without having to bother even contributing at all? Technology has been the perfect outlet for those who want to absorb the conversation whilst being a silent observer, others have grasped the development to defend views they would be unlikely to speak vehemently about in front of ‘literal’ company. For many the mask of online has released a torrent of viewpoints from a hushed proportion of society, this effect can both be positive and negative; I will leave you the reader to conjure your own examples.

Chucking some weight in to ground this suggestion that phones and partners should even have justifiable place within the same question, The New York Times have provided us with some pretty horrifying statistics – 70% of women studied felt that smartphones were negatively affecting their relationships, whilst 46% reported being phone snubbed. As if marriages and relationships did not already have enough battleground to fight over, these perpetually pinging platforms are aiding this distance. If so, what’s the solution? Date a more interesting partner? Bring in a marriage law for humans and smartphones? The connection we have with our phones is stronger than the fabric of most marriages, and by all accounts we spend far more time with our ‘little world’ than we do with the individual we are assumed to love and companion. Not only is it alarmingly disturbing and raises further questions over the strength of the traditional foundations of relationships that are constantly being stretched and tugged by the modern age, it is in truth quite sad. I am an avid defender of making your own rules within a relationship and bending with what we and our partners find as the details, rights and rituals but which we live our lives but good god – is this what it is coming down to? Having a better relationship with plastic than you do with your partner? The chief concern is, that even to leave and find someone new… could anyone live up to a smartphone? Can anyone stay that interesting for that long in this modern world? The reality: most people don’t even realise they are spending more time with a smartphone than with their partners – it is habit – and it takes someone else, usually, to suggest that this is a problem.

A more striking example of such a dynamic is represented in my grandparents – my grandfather – a technology addict, my grandmother – a technology despiser – she has a mobile phone that looks like it has been pulled from the cold war and to even say the word ‘upgrade’ within 100ft of her small frame has much the same effect as shouting ‘RAT!’ in a kitchen. It is a mixture of both fear, disgust and down right frustration. Many have lost their partners to this new age. Is love for your partner enough nowadays? Enough to stop seeking for interest elsewhere? Interest, in a smartphone, that will inevitably lead to a relationship breakdown? As Woody Allen, with his immortalised metaphors on relationship survival, said in Annie Hall, ‘A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

Although many, in answer to this question, will be led by an overwhelming sense of duty to claim their partner far outweighs their smartphone, and that to suggest otherwise is mere lunacy, I think, deep down, this question digs far deeper than the flippant responses we give to it. If I ever do embark on a relationship, I must be honest with myself, as the years go by, the fight between my partner and the almost ridiculous dependancy I have on my smartphone to complete even the most mundane of tasks, will only cause more conflict the more embroiled I become in the rapid and terrifying advancements of the modern age. And for that, as I will no doubt say as my hair grows grey – I will be truly disappointed in myself.

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