FEATURE: Could you survive without a phone?

Louise Roseingrave invited her friends to the local for a game of ‘don’t touch the phone’

AT midnight in the Harbour Bar in Leap, West Cork, the five of us reached for our phones. For three hours, we had engaged in a social experiment to resist those phones, stacked in the centre of the table.

The person who reached for their phone first had to pay with a round of drinks. We thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t, indicating how attached we’ve become to these clever pieces of plastic.

Before mobile phones, plans for socialising were made in person or by landline. Those plans could not be changed at the last minute. Now, we can call to cancel, or send a text to say ‘I’m running late.’

A generation has never lived free from this constant contact-ability.

Our experiment began at 9pm. We’d placed our phones in the circle, off-limits.

The lead-up to that was a flurry of calls and texts. It felt like pre-holiday jitters.

All of us, bar Josephine, fought the urge to pick up the mobile. There was a sense of deprivation. “It’s like a safety net, something to fall back on. If you’re having an awkward moment with people you don’t know very well, you pick up your phone, it’s just something to do,” Kevin said.

We were acutely aware of the embargo.

“Sometimes, I can go hours without looking at my phone, but now, only because I can’t, I really want to,” Emily said.

Maggie agreed. “It’s because we are not allowed touch them that we can’t help but want to. It’s a natural reaction,” she said.

The conversation went beyond forbidden phones. But as it was still early, the phones reminded us they were not far away. The phones buzzed and beeped about the table, seeking attention.

The persistent interruptions steered the conversation from pictures to ringtones and, later, happily, into details of caller’s love lives.

Kevin, the only male among us, was by far the most in demand.

As the evening progressed, the lack of distractions allowed us to engage more as a group. We could pay more attention to each other. Topics flowed more naturally from one to the next.

It was as if we were granted a brief reprieve from the anti-social behaviour that phones have normalised.

Time passed, but we were largely unaware, until someone asked for the time. None of us, bar Kevin, wore a watch and he refused to tell us.

Left to our own devices as a group, silliness ensued. We found a cylindrical, velvet cushion, which we used to make fake phonecalls to the bar staff to deliver the next round of drinks. A bus pulled up outside and unleashed a gaggle of lively women, out celebrating a staff party.

Amid the mayhem, their phones played a pivotal role. Poses were struck and smartphone cameras flashed, documenting the antics of a night out.

Approaching the midnight finish line, and a little worse for wear, we agreed we couldn’t care less about the phones scattered on the table.

For the three-hour duration, not one of us had relented to a moment of reckless abandon.

Either we were too cheap to shell out for a round, or too competitive to lose face.

At closing time, as the game wound up, all hands reached simultaneously for the reunion we’d resisted all night.

Like junkies indulging a hit, we scrolled through what we’d missed out on. Calls, voicemail, texts.

The relief at re-connection was clear. But it wasn’t long before the group drifted back into general banter.

Looking around, I realised something was missing.

It was Maggie. She was there in body alright, sitting with us, but we’d lost her attention. She’d become engrossed in her Facebook news feed on her phone.

We felt a collective pang of rejection. The game was a good lesson in self-awareness, teaching us just how reliant on our phones we’ve become.

We use phones like a crutch, to mask insecurities.

We check the time, find directions, social media.

We can dip in and out of each others lives — uninvited — at any hour of the day or night.

It’s reassuring to know that the emerging generation, the children who have grown up immersed in modern technology, are devising games to address the social effects.

And our little experiment made for a refreshingly great night out.


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