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Oh no, here it comes. That I'm alone.
September 20, 2013 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Louis C.K. explains to Conan O'Brien why he hates smartphones. "You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That's being a person." (via)
posted by changeling (211 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
so does that make "I don't have a cell phone" the new "I don't have TV" (or cable) ?

Damn, hip before my times again.
posted by k5.user at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think this is pretty great because it also serves as a very concise breakdown of why so many online discussions (newspaper comment sections and the like) are vicious and terrible.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:02 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


He's right. No one knows how to sit without being entertained anymore.
posted by agregoli at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


To be honest, if I was Louis C.K. I would try anything not to just be myself, but eh.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


He's so right. I wait for the train twice a day and so often I'll try to put my phone away and just do nothing but it's so difficult because Facebook and Twitter and Tiny Wings are RIGHT THERE in my pocket.
posted by bondcliff at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2013


The other night we were out having beer with friends, and my husband was checking Twitter every time there was a conversational lull.

So I kept his phone in my pocket for the rest of the night. Good times.
posted by heatherann at 11:08 AM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


He sounds like a Buddhist.
posted by kozad at 11:08 AM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


As much as I feel like smartphones have improved the quality of our lives, I kind of have to agree. The other day I went down to my corner bodega to pick up some snacks, and there was a bit of a line. Since I was just going down the corner, I didn't bring my phone.

In the probably less than two minutes I was waiting, I got bored and agitated. I was even getting a little anxious that I was missing important texts or tweets -- that I was somehow disconnected from the world.
posted by modernserf at 11:08 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah I find myself automatically reaching for my phone if more than 3 seconds go by without stimulation. It is a fucking sickness. But it has got me bad. I know you need that time to just sit and be, but I have completely eliminated it from my life. I feel like it is going to have serious consequences.
posted by ND¢ at 11:10 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one knows how to sit without being entertained anymore.

By which you mean "being bored"? Because I remember the world pre-smartphone, and there was a goddamn lot of just being bored and lonely in it, which I think we shouldn't romanticize into some samsara-and-zenlike higher condition.
posted by mhoye at 11:11 AM on September 20, 2013 [119 favorites]


Checking facebook or playing Angry Birds is not generally important, but then neither is staring out the window. We are only "addicted" to our phones when nothing is happening because doing nothing is boring. If you start checking your phone on a rollercoaster or in the middle of sex then I'll be worried, but people have wished that waiting for the bus was less boring for as long as there's been buses, and now that it's happened, we are going to lament the loss of quiet time waiting for buses? Please.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2013 [50 favorites]


He's right. No one knows how to sit without being entertained anymore.

How far back does this go though? Is it really so different than newspapers on the subway, magazines in the doctor's office, Walkmans, Discmans, Game Boy, Sudoku? Is it even a bad thing? I'm not really convinced.
posted by Hoopo at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2013 [24 favorites]


I make a point of not filling up small spaces in my day this way even though it's tempting to think that I could be using that time to read or something, because realistically you need some time to settle into something like a book, and that ten minutes is just going to leave you unsatisfied and probably won't net you much in terms of retention either. So I try to just meditate in those spans instead, and a funny thing I've noticed is that I get suspicious looks. You can watch the gears turn in people's heads as they look at me just sort of sitting there and taking in my surroundings and thinking, "what is that guy doing? Why isn't he looking at his phone? Why is he just doing nothing?"
posted by invitapriore at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


we are going to lament the loss of quiet time waiting for buses? Please.
It's a good time for reading books, or the newspaper. Playing with the smartphone is not the only way of alleviating boredom. Please.
posted by crazy_yeti at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


I absolutely have no ability to just sit and be a human being. I crave overstimulation at all moments in my life. Even before smartphones my mind was constantly racing and craving intellectual distraction, but now it's just ridiculous. He's absolutely right that there's a fear of something aching and alone inside of me that I'm constantly trying to distract myself from, even if it's just for 1 minute in a grocery line. The 'always on' culture of the past decade is literally rewiring our brains.
posted by naju at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


Is it really so different than newspapers on the subway

I've never sat down to lunch with four other people and have them all whip out a newspaper mid-conversation.

Well, actually I have, but I'm boring as fuck. Still though, my point stands.
posted by bondcliff at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


Hoopo: "Is it even a bad thing? I'm not really convinced."

It's been my experience that indulging my lack of impulse control reinforces that lack, but YMMV.
posted by invitapriore at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Meh. Not buying it. I've had some astonishingly intimate, breathtaking, powerful conversations with people through texts that I doubt they'd have ever had the confidence to have with me in person. I've told my parents things on a phone that I would never tell them at home. Technology is what you make of it, but I've found that it's very possible to feel profoundly sad and alone with a full complement of iDevices.

Can technology distract you from important, meaningful things that take longer than three seconds to develop? Oh, totally. But sometimes when you're looking on a phone, you're not missing out on much. And it's not like lack of phones led the generation prior to mine to any profound kindnesses or insights. Of the kids I know who grew up with smartphones and Facebook, a lot of them seem way more in tune with each others' feelings than I was with my friends' at their age. Sometimes staring at other faces makes you feel just as alienated and disconnected as staring at people on Facebook would've anyway.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2013 [21 favorites]


so does that make "I don't have a cell phone" the new "I don't have TV" (or cable) ?

What I don't have is a smartphone. Just a cheap cell which is the only phone I own. So I don't text or anything, just use it for all those things we used to use phones for. Talking to people. But hardly anybody calls anymore, and I've never really been one to make many calls. So, strangely, at a time when phones seem to becoming more and more the center of many people's lives, mine is becoming less and less a part of mine.

And I seem to be doing fine without it.

Not that I don't spend time at places like Metafilter or have a fairly active Facebook. I just find NOT having a phone that's smarter than I am mostly a positive ... except for those few people who only seem to send texts. I've kind of lost touch with them.

As for Mr. CK, good on him not just letting his kids have smartphones ... because all their friends have them. Reminds my of something my mom said to me when I was about twelve. "You need to come up with a better argument than, because everybody else is doing it."
posted by philip-random at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


(I can't watch the video, so I'm only working off the transcript)

The best advice about smartphones is basically the same as with the Internet (and before that the TV).

Practice moderation and don't be a jerk.

Regularly spending every waking moment on your phone and not interacting with the world around you is a bad thing.
Just as coming home, turning on the TV and watching until you go to bed every single night is a bad thing.

The second rule is just as simple. Just because you're using a different medium, it doesn't give you license to be a jerk. Regular social norms still apply.

Of course, sometimes we just feel like vegging for a night, and that's fine. Or we're involved in a really intense online discussion or very interesting texting thread.
And that's fine, nothing wrong with that.

But if you're regularly picking up your phone the minute there is a lull in conversation (or worse yet, during a conversation) or you can't sit on a park bench and just watch the world go by without a phone in your hand, then yeah, you probably need to take a break.
posted by madajb at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


To be honest, if I was Louis C.K. I would try anything not to just be myself, but eh.

I think Louis CK is pretty awesome. Insanely self aware, smart, and so good at being the transgressive douchebag comedian, yet nearly all his humor is at his own expense (or the expense of bumbling humanity, which we all are). He works his ass off and has been lucky enough to make good money doing so. I'm sure that brings him all sorts of angst, but in most respects I think there's nothing wrong with being Louie.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2013 [38 favorites]


It's a good time for reading books, or the newspaper.

What if I am reading a book or a newspaper on my phone, though?

Really the main thing I use mine for is scheduling things via txt msg or screaming about a currently (as in happening at the moment of the txting) airing TV show with someone who lives in another state.
posted by elizardbits at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is stupid. I remember the Sony Walkman and hearing people say 'kids have to be plugged in all the time, it's so mindless, they don't talk to each other, they can't sit still, it's making them unable to concentrate'. And that was 1982.

I've sat around with my wife, sister and daughter all on our smartphones round a coffee table. I like to think it was more like the scene in 'Look Back in Anger' where they're reading the papers together and talking shit about the stuff they say.
posted by colie at 11:18 AM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


Today's Zippy the Pinhead strip is relevant ...
posted by crazy_yeti at 11:18 AM on September 20, 2013


This is why there are meditation retreats. It's rare for anyone to be able to work/play in the current world without access to something like email or texting (I don't have a cell phone but I do have a Kindle with wifi capability, so for example, I can contact people even if I'm not at home or at work). But it's also really valuable to have that time when you are just in your body, feeling what you're feeling, noticing your experience.
posted by janey47 at 11:18 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a good time for reading books, or the newspaper. Playing with the smartphone is not the only way of alleviating boredom. Please.

So, you know you can read books and news on phones now?

Also, they're not just "movies", anymore, they're also "talkies".
posted by mhoye at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


What I don't have is a smartphone. Just a cheap cell which is the only phone I own.

Me too. The only reason I even contemplate smart phones at all is because I am a public transit rider on three different services, and sometimes transit apps would be nifty.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never sat down to lunch with four other people and have them all whip out a newspaper mid-conversation.

I didn't really get the impression this is what he was talking about, but fair enough. A lot of people are pretty inconsiderate with their phones.
posted by Hoopo at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2013


I'm sorry, but he fucked up the punchline. Do not read if you haven't seen the video, but at the end, he should've said "and my daughter, in the backseat, was like 'okay, I don't want a phone anymore.'"
posted by history is a weapon at 11:22 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mhoye, you don't speak for everyone. I'm not romanticizing being bored and lonely, because many people don't find the antidote to those things in cellphones. No need to "correct" my statement...if you like your phone, great, I like mine too. It doesn't mean I don't think that people are losing the ability to entertain themselves with just their own thoughts - cause it sure appears that way to me.
posted by agregoli at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have one friend who still rocks a dumb phone. One friend. He's one of the deepest thinkers I know, Ph.D in history. And an erudite conversationalist who somehow stays au courant without a Facebook page or checking his email more than once a day. I've wondered for YEARS if there was a connection.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


To be honest I'm also kind of mistrustful of people that are capable of boredom. Like, there's nothing that you're interested in that you can't play around with in your head in the absence of some sort of external stimulus? That weirds me out a little bit.
posted by invitapriore at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2013 [31 favorites]


Everybody hates it when Jonathan Franzen says it, everybody loves it when Louis CK says it.
posted by escabeche at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2013 [28 favorites]


"that empty forever empty."

Louis is just getting better as a comic. Just better and better. It's insane.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:25 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry, but he fucked up the punchline.

No, he did a Louis CK non sequitur punchline instead of one with more conventional timing/tone shifts, which is one of any number of ways his comedy anticipates and subverts long-established expectations. Which is why he is in many people's estimation the best stand-up comedian working today.
posted by gompa at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


I actually spend much of my life willingly doing nothing, it's called sleep
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2013


Terror in your car, terror on your death bed. I don't think it is nobler to experience it one way than another.
posted by Teakettle at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2013


Cell phones became ubiquitous between the time my first child was born and my youngest. People at the playground used to interact with infants back in the early 90's. Now they push a swing while staring at a screen. It makes me wonder what the difference will be with the 15 and under kids.
posted by readery at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


@invitapriore Yes, exactly this. Whenever my ex would tell me "I'm bored," I'd be amazed. Like, there's the whole internet, and shelves of books, and don't you just have things and hobbies you like and want to spend this now-free time investigating?

Of course, I too late learned at this was code for "Actually, I want to spend time with you, why won't you spend time with me?" and well, that's why I started this story with "my ex" and not "my girlfriend".
posted by Imperfect at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


Also the point about kids calling people fat in person vs over the internet? Haven't really noticed that. When I was a kid it wasn't "oh, that doesn't feel good to hurt someone's feelings like that." When I was a kid, kids knew they were going to hurt someone's feelings and they fully intended to do it and would do it again. Because kids can be little fuckers, and I don't think it's any better or worse now merely because they don't do it face to face. (The problem is that there's nowhere to hide now, but that's a totally different problem)
posted by Hoopo at 11:28 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Eh. Before smart phones I always carried a book. After smart phones, I still always carry a book. If the phone's not out, the book is (or the notepad).

It's easier to drop out of the world you're in, now with smart phones, but since "everyone" does it, no one sticks out doing it anymore.

I may be a nerd with a book (or geek with a book, depending on the topic) but no one notices anymore. I have now become unremarkable except to people who think that I'm a gadget junkie.
posted by tilde at 11:28 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


sure, I use my smartphone for all the important stuff -- communication, reading, getting myself unlost, whatever. but when I find myself pulling it out at stoplights ( I know), in line for coffee, when I'm walking my dog -- well, a lot of that really is to ward off Thoughts. the echoey ones, the ones that seep into the spaces when I'm not cramming input on top of them. I think he nailed it.
posted by changeling at 11:30 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


You can watch the gears turn in people's heads as they look at me just sort of sitting there and taking in my surroundings and thinking, "what is that guy doing? Why isn't he looking at his phone? Why is he just doing nothing?"

I can almost guaranty you that nobody is doing that.
posted by bondcliff at 11:30 AM on September 20, 2013 [37 favorites]


Yeah, reading books and newspapers is not magically better. Arguably they are just the previous step on the same road. They are still part of the gradual move of consciousness out from the individual - actually just being present is the opposite of not only using your smartphone, but of reading in general.
posted by freebird at 11:31 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Everybody hates it when Jonathan Franzen says it, everybody loves it when Louis CK says it.

I know this is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but one huge difference (besides sheer relative affability and awesomeness) is that Louis CK is intimately familiar with the smartphone use he's riffing on, whereas Franzen demonstrably knows less than my mother does about social media (and my mother mainly thinks Twitter is a box on my website that fills with new posts by me sometimes).

One of the HUGE factors in the effectiveness of Louis CK's comedy is how deeply empathetic and self-effacing it is. He's almost always part of what he's mocking -- either literally in this case, because he's the idiot resisting the urge to whip out the smartphone in traffic, or in a sort of generalized "we're all idiots" humanistic way that's conveyed by his tone and thematic choices. Whereas Franzen, in his series of anti-modernity screeds, is speaking from his hermetically sealed Genius Chamber on Serious Novelist Island, which is why he comes across as such a condescending drip.
posted by gompa at 11:31 AM on September 20, 2013 [52 favorites]


Adam Gopnik wrote a terrific article in the New Yorker a while back in which he pointed out that whatever the latest technology is, it's the identified monster. It used to be that people said, "Turn off the TV and talk to your family!" and now they say, "Get off your {gadget} and come watch TV with your family!"
posted by janey47 at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


So, you know you can read books and news on phones now?
Yeah, if I want everything I look at to be about 3 square inches! I can't imagine reading, say, Proust on a smartphone screen. And there's something to be said for page layout, typography, etc. (And the DPI of "physical reality" can't be beat.)

And seriously. When I look around me on the subway, most people are not reading anything serious. They are mostly texting or playing games or reading vapid fluff. There are people who read longer-form stuff but they tend to use something like a Kindle.

AND DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON PEOPLE BRINGING SMARTPHONES TO CONCERTS!! EFFING AMATEURS!!!
posted by crazy_yeti at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, but he fucked up the punchline.

Haha, no. That was a pitch-perfect delivery.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


bondcliff: "You can watch the gears turn in people's heads as they look at me just sort of sitting there and taking in my surroundings and thinking, "what is that guy doing? Why isn't he looking at his phone? Why is he just doing nothing?"

I can almost guaranty you that nobody is doing that.
"

I work at a university attended by a bunch of a rich kids, so a for what it's worth lot of your standard intuitions about human behavior might not apply to the kind of situations I'm thinking of.
posted by invitapriore at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2013


Stop painting horses on the walls of that cave! It's time to eat aurochs with your family!
posted by elizardbits at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2013 [39 favorites]


This was the best thing about cigarettes. You can ward off the horror by drawing it into your lungs, pulling all that death into you, then exhaling it into the air. Then you got cancer and died = no more existential angst! It was Win-Win. Darn that nanny state.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That's being a person."

In what I refer to as the Dark Times, i.e. times before smartphones and e-readers, I was one of those people that stood out because I could not sit quietly and stare into space. I always had something to read. I traveled with multiple books, even if it was a weekend trip 2 hours away, because I lived in fear of having nothing to read. I had books stashed in my car, in my desk, and all over my house in case something happened and I needed to have something to read while I waited. I don't think I have ever eaten a meal by myself without having something to read. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been in a waiting situation, like a doctor's office or mechanic without something to read, and those times I was beyond miserable.

Now, I don't have to sit mindlessly without a book. I can pick up where I left off, or start a brand new one if I finish. I can read the news, read a book, or look at pictures of cats without having to deal with the horrific boredom of sitting there with nothing to do.

For me, the smartphone has been liberating and freeing. And I've found that a number of times, I'll just shut the phone down and sit quietly. Not stressed about having nothing to read or think about because it's right there. I just don't have to read it right now.

I don't bust out my phone when I'm with friends unless we need to know if that kid who was in Eerie, Indiana and Hocus Pocus ever acted in anything else. I don't check Facebook or Twitter if it's human interaction time, but trust me, the world is a better place with me quietly reading instead of festeringly, furiously bored. If I were forced to be a person like Louis C.K. wants me to be, I would be the most miserable, unhappy person that ever walked the planet.
posted by teleri025 at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


I work at a university attended by a bunch of a rich kids, so a lot of your standard intuitions about human behavior might not apply to the kind of situations I'm thinking of.

Except you're both claiming that these people are not paying attention to anything in their surroundings, but also paying attention to you long enough to realize that you are.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


"People at the playground used to interact with infants back in the early 90's. Now they push a swing while staring at a screen. "

Sometimes, but then sometimes the child will want to take a break from the swings and play on the smartphone (at any age above 18 months). We all need to mix it up.

If there had been any concern over what we now call 'parenting' when swings were invented, someone would have said they were mindlessly repetitive and they stop kids from climbing trees or making up their own games, which are organic and unpredictable...
posted by colie at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's where my "get off my lawn" oldness comes in here, I just don't get why (usually young) people film events with their iPads. The whole event they spend looking at the screen of their iPad. Why even go if you are just going to watch it on a screen anyway? Why not just stay home and watch it on a screen there and be comfortable?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:37 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, reading books and newspapers is not magically better.
I've found that I tend to have a longer attention span, and am able to read long-form stuff when it's in print, but I tend to skim and jump around when I read online. Besides the online world is so hyperlinked, you're always tempted by something else. There really is something special about being alone with a good book. If there are references you don't understand, you don't immediately go to Wikipedia to look them up ... you have to hold them in your head for a while, mull them over. It encourages a more patient approach, I find.
posted by crazy_yeti at 11:37 AM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


When I look around me on the subway, most people are not reading anything serious. They are mostly texting or playing games or reading vapid fluff. There are people who read longer-form stuff but they tend to use something like a Kindle.

How do you know? Like, I can see being able to tell whether people are playing games or texting, because those involve input from the user, but unless you're literally going around the subway peering intently at the screens of strangers' cell phones how the heck do you know they're reading "vapid fluff" rather than something you personally deem worthwhile
posted by titus n. owl at 11:37 AM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hardly fair. Most people need a phone to listen to a Louis CK routine.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:37 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


With all due respect, before the iPhone I've read more Shampoo bottles than a copy-editor for Unilever.
posted by wcfields at 11:37 AM on September 20, 2013 [75 favorites]


reading books and newspapers is not magically better. Arguably they are just the previous step

Which would arguably make them one step better.
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:38 AM on September 20, 2013


People should read more, but only the things that I approve of them reading!
posted by elizardbits at 11:38 AM on September 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


I mostly use my smartphone as an excuse to ignore people. Cause I fucking hate people. It's not even turned on most of the time.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:39 AM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


How do you know?
On a crowded subway train it's pretty easy to see what's on other people's screens, especially if you are tall, and you are literally surrounded by people on their phones. 9 out of 10 times I am able to see what people are looking at, it's some entertainment blog or the like, not a novel or newspaper. (Yes, there are exceptions to this.)
posted by crazy_yeti at 11:39 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like humans have spent thousands of years wishing we could just reach out and talk to each other when ever we want and now that it is here no one is happy about it.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


I don't read novels on public transportation because I get lost in the narrative and miss my stop. I'm not quite narcissistic enough to assume that I am the only person who does things this way.
posted by elizardbits at 11:43 AM on September 20, 2013


It's fascinating to see the range of responses in this thread. I could sit totally absorbed in it all day.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:43 AM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


f5f5f5f5f5
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:44 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Because my friends literally saved my life when I was suicidally depressed in high school, I'm hesitant to think that limiting access to their social group is a good idea.

And personally, I was a late adopter to cell phones- my friends literally bought me one, set it up, and put it in my hands, they were getting so frustrated. A whole new world has opened up for me. I'm not afraid to kayak by myself. I'm not afraid to hike long distances by myself or ski by myself. Getting stranded by a broken car no longer holds the terror it used to.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:45 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Come on Louis CK, these cookies aren't going to click themselves!
posted by drezdn at 11:45 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


This was the best thing about cigarettes. You can ward off the horror by drawing it into your lungs, pulling all that death into you, then exhaling it into the air. Then you got cancer and died = no more existential angst! It was Win-Win. Darn that nanny state.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:35 AM on September 20 [+] [!]


But seriously, smart phones do kind of meet the same need--something to do with your hands, a little habitual routine (checking your mail, MF, etc.), and I think also a little burst of chemicals--not nicotine now, but something, some kind of hormonal hit that's both a little stimulating and a little soothing. And it's something that only takes a few minutes--a reward for finishing a task, or a way to delay doing a disagreeable task.
posted by HotToddy at 11:47 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I feel like humans have spent thousands of years wishing we could just reach out and talk to each other when ever we want and now that it is here no one is happy about it.

Maybe that's because we have lost the ability to actually talk to each other and now just mumble some inane grunts to one another in tiny >140 character bursts and sound bites.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:47 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was funny, even though I think he's completely wrong. The idea of a "forever-empty" made me laugh out loud.

I think he's wrong, because (as mentioned above) a phone isn't some magical gateway to another dimension. The stuff you're doing on there is as "real" as having a conversation, or reading a newspaper, or doing a crossword, or watching the village idiot chase a dog around the common area (or whatever else people did in the down time between work and dying throughout history). So Louis C.K. is saying (paraphrase) "this stuff isn't real, so it distracts from the stuff that is," but I think it's entirely the opposite, that this stuff is as real and important as anything else. The example he gives of the "you're fat" barb resulting in empathy in the "real" scenario and mindless self satisfaction in the "virtual" scenario is a perfect example. The interactions with the phone exist in the same plane of reality as any other interaction.

That's why it's important for kids to know how to handle these interactions, and you don't learn how to do something by being shut away from it for your entire life until you escape the clutches of your parent where you're then faced with total freedom and total ignorance of how to handle that freedom. That, in fact, is an incredibly shitty way to prepare anyone for anything, and is probably part of the reason that we have (to use a similar case) such a toxic drinking culture in our society.

Apart from the socialization aspect of kids knowing how to interact with a technology which is increasingly mediating our lives, there's also this false nostalgia of a time which never existed, where you would sit there and Think Deep Thoughts, or be totally present at dinner, or never ignore your friends in conversation. If you go back and read stuff from the turn of the century you'll still find concerned young men and women bemoaning the fact that people don't truly listen, don't truly talk, perform only perfunctory relation with their loved ones while being distracted by other cares, or whatever. The phone gives you an easy out, but there is no magical force which requires one to check it, and human interaction has never had a golden age that's somehow been smashed by the mystical attention devouring phone-demon.

I'd go so far to say that if you find yourself checking your phone in the middle of a conversation then perhaps the problem isn't with the phone, but rather with the conversation or the conversants. Isn't that just as rude as tweeting during dinner? Perhaps the tweeting is even less rude, because a) the other conversants at least KNOW that you're not paying attention rather than operating under a false assumption that they're participating in an equal conversation, and b) at least if you're on Twitter you're not just roaming around in your own head while ignoring those around you, and you're actually involved in some sort of interaction.

This desire to "disconnect", to show that you have some sort of privileged and amazing interior life and set of manners which is absent in your phone gazing herdlike peers, is sort of arrogant, and I think perhaps dishonest... think back to you pre-phone self and ask if you'd never been only nominally paying attention to a conversation while thinking about something else altogether? Idiotic stunts where people eschew modern technology to prove some non-point, or Louis' little rant here, are a way of identifying yourself as a beautiful and complex soul, somehow held back by this damned modernity. To tie this back into what I was talking about above about socializing children to deal with the technological present, maybe the same could be said of adults. Maybe the solution isn't to throw your phone in the dumpster and don a hair shirt, but rather to use the phone mindfully and to understand a way to actually USE the best communication technology ever possessed by the human to connect more. Wasn't it Louis C.K. who had a bit about "everything is amazing and everything sucks"? That was the same comedian, right?
posted by codacorolla at 11:47 AM on September 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


I just had an awesome idea for an app: The Cereal Box App! It displays the various sides of cereal boxes (current and historic, or even made up!) so you can read that shit while you eat or wait for the train. Just like when you were a kid!

Someone who is Good With That Sort Of Thing needs to make this happen. If you do, please give me a cut of your profits.

I'm too lazy to go and see if this already exists.

Battle Creek, Michigan
posted by bondcliff at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


I don't read novels on public transportation because I get lost in the narrative and miss my stop.

I have the opposite problem. The fear of missing my stop and the jostling by other people keep me from really getting into the book, so I just stick to easy to put down crap or short news articles.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, reading books and newspapers is not magically better.

Actually, I think it is better. Not magically though.
posted by General Tonic at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


As far as texting/twittering and driving goes, that recent Werner Herzog documentary cured me of any desire to do it. But worse than that for me is the urge to make, like, THE PERFECT DJ MIX on the fly while I'm in the car. Streaming music apps on my phone are going to be the death of me.
posted by naju at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2013


So the only thing stopping his kids from calling someone fat is their lack of a cell phone? I don't think that's a technology problem.
posted by desjardins at 11:50 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


elizardbits: "People should read more, but only the things that I approve of them reading!"

You've nailed it!
posted by Mister_A at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2013


Wasn't it Louis C.K. who had a bit about "everything is amazing and everything sucks"? That was the same comedian, right?

And he was wrong about that, too.
posted by escabeche at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking personally, I only experience boredom when I'm depressed and it's more like being overwhelmed into inaction by an existential realization that my options in life are very limited, but the possibilities in life are very infinite, and nothing I do will ultimately matter. Boredom is the initial emotional refusal to stew in that feeling. Stewing in your own existential struggle every once in a while can be very good for you; stewing in it all the time probably isn't, but recognizing it and allowing it really can be beautiful. It's a part of life, and allowing ourselves to live life as it is instead of trying to avoid it while we're here is a good thing that enriches our time in the world. I do think Louis is right that that urge to constantly be stimulated that so many people have in our society is an attempt to band-aid over how spiritually empty life is in the US.
posted by byanyothername at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bah, phones and books just prevent public nap time. (Sleep, that's where I'm a Viking!)
posted by FJT at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This really is the same stuff as Franzen, except that Louis CK is a man who is good at communication, whereas Franzen likes big fat essays and cannot lie.
posted by The River Ivel at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2013


the past decade is literally rewiring our brains.

Pretty much every technology that develops rewires our brain. Hell. Just experiencing day to day life rewires your brain to a certain extent (yay, learning!). I fail to see why this is such a bad thing in this instance when it mostly hasn't been in so many others.
posted by sparkletone at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


RustyBrooks: "Except you're both claiming that these people are not paying attention to anything in their surroundings, but also paying attention to you long enough to realize that you are."

This is the last breath I'll spend on this, but nah, I didn't say anything about the people around me not paying attention.

Anyway, for the most part I don't really give a hoot about what people around me are doing with smartphones and I think the decline of society narratives that surround them are pretty dumb. I'm more coming at this from the viewpoint that mindfulness is an important and underrated component of happiness and smartphones, more than other technologies we've seen so far, make it difficult to achieve by virtue of being ubiquitous and tempting.
posted by invitapriore at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]



Adam Gopnik wrote a terrific article in the New Yorker a while back in which he pointed out that whatever the latest technology is, it's the identified monster. It used to be that people said, "Turn off the TV and talk to your family!" and now they say, "Get off your {gadget} and come watch TV with your family!"


the assumption here seems to be that there was never anything wrong with TV. Of course, there was and still is. It's a technology. There's something wrong with every technology, just as there's something right. And we need to figure out which is which. And folks like Louis CK are well worth hearing out, because they're smart.
posted by philip-random at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I had a smartphone for about two years for job purposes, and then I didn't have a job anymore and reverting back to my dumbphone was a good way to not spend $30/month that I didn't have because I didn't have a job. Although I mostly think I don't miss it (and, hey, I still have this wi-fi enabled laptop) I have no doubt that once I am gainfully employed again I will probably justify getting my smartphone services enabled again.

In the meantime, the smartphone itself without the 4G data plan is a fantastic MP3 player with a 32GB mini-SD filled with all my favorite albums.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2013


Maybe that's because we have lost the ability to actually talk to each other and now just mumble some inane grunts to one another in tiny >140 character bursts and sound bites.

You are definitely not following the right people on Twitter. There are some goddamn eloquent and funny people using that medium.
posted by emjaybee at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd go so far to say that if you find yourself checking your phone in the middle of a conversation then perhaps the problem isn't with the phone

If you are not tempted to check your phone constantly, then you have a different relationship with your phone (or the internet) than I do. And that's fine, good for you. But I want to read all the things. Right now. And I always have this nagging (and accurate) feeling that there are new things! Constant new things!

I steal my husband's phone when we're out with friends not to shame him but because I understand the pull it has, and I'm also preventing myself from spending the night obsessively checking "just one thing" because I can't in good conscience kidnap his phone and then keep checking mine.

The internet brings so much value to our lives, and it is also something we are learning to manage. We tweet and we read digital books and essays every day. We read so much. We converse so much. We investigate new topics constantly. And there are pluses and minuses to this and we are still figuring out the lines.

And yes, we tweet during dinner. Instagram tweets, yo. Check out this gorgeous steak.
posted by heatherann at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2013


Wasn't it Louis C.K. who had a bit about "everything is amazing and everything sucks"? That was the same comedian, right?

And he was wrong about that, too.

No, it was "everything is amazing and nobody's happy" which is a much different proposition.
posted by crazy_yeti at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Siri, please.
posted by hal9k at 11:59 AM on September 20, 2013


This is the last breath I'll spend on this, but nah, I didn't say anything about the people around me not paying attention.

Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to start a whole thing about it. I guess my point was that people are not as concerned with you as you think they are. This is not specific to you. Sort of the same advice you give non-dancers when they're at a wedding and they're worried that everyone is watching how bad they are. Nobody gives a crap about everybody.
posted by bondcliff at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


the ability to just sit there. That's being a person
Wow, that sounds boring. Not everyone needs quiet time to think deep thoughts. Some people think deep thoughts all the time. They don't need to prove it to anyone else.
posted by soelo at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


No, it was "everything is amazing and nobody's happy" which is a much different proposition.

And one which he nailed absolutely dead-to-rights.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


Like, there's nothing that you're interested in that you can't play around with in your head in the absence of some sort of external stimulus? That weirds me out a little bit.

For me it's more that I'm more comfortable thinking while stimulated. Even when I was taking ADD meds, boredom induced crushing anxiety in me. I'm willing to sacrifice looking like a Deep Thinker to be able to actually think.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd go so far to say that if you find yourself checking your phone in the middle of a conversation then perhaps the problem isn't with the phone

Agree with this. If I find myself checking my phone in the middle of a conversation then the problem is with whoever I'm talking with. Hey, you: Be less boring!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:05 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


And one which he nailed absolutely dead-to-rights.

In that routine, he makes a big thing about how people should stop whining about being uncomfortable on the plane because YOU SHOULD BE AMAZED THAT STEEL BIRDS CAN FLY. In the present routine, he says that people should pay attention to their discomfort with always-on technology and not just BE AMAZED THAT LITTLE COMPUTER IN YOUR POCKET CAN SHOW YOU THE CONTENTS OF THE WORLD'S LIBRARIES. I do think there's some inconsistency there. But you know what? That's OK! Because Louis CK's job is being a comedian and saying amusing things! Not to have a profound or fully-worked-out or even consistent take on the human condition and the way we live now.
posted by escabeche at 12:07 PM on September 20, 2013


I don't remember anyone ever objecting to using crossword puzzles or books as a crutchy escape from reality. If books were that tiny and easy to carry then I'd be whipping them out on train platforms and in dentists' waiting rooms and --

TRICKED YOU. I'm reading kindle books on my smartphone. That's OK, right? Or do I have to submit information about the content I'm consuming to those who wish to judge me?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:09 PM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


You are definitely not following the right people on Twitter. There are some goddamn eloquent and funny people using that medium.

Well that's certainly true. I haven't heard a compelling argument yet for why I would want to follow anyone on Twitter, hopefully I won't once again be brushed off as a luddite or accused of boasting about my lack of twitter account to make some (non)point rather than actually getting one sometime soon.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, that sounds boring. Not everyone needs quiet time to think deep thoughts

I don't know if it implies making deep thoughts. Sometimes it's just being bored.

But on a different thought, doesn't being bored increase one's patience?
posted by FJT at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2013


I'm someone who feels an inexplicable burst of shared humanity on the bus. I like watching fellow human beings do their fellow human being things. So yes, I have to remind myself to keep the phone in the pocket from time to time so I can see the dad hand a can of vienna sausages to his daughter, or the entire bus look for bandaids to give to a grandma with a scraped knee. As much as I also love reading all of the internet everyday, I really need to practice being in the space that I am in, with the people who share that space with me.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [23 favorites]


When I look around me on the subway, most people are not reading anything serious. They are mostly texting or playing games or reading vapid fluff. There are people who read longer-form stuff but they tend to use something like a Kindle.


I ride BART to the City at a time when there is a distinct difference in the objects people use to while away the time, based on when they get on the train. If I catch a train before 8 am, most people riding are reading newspapers or books. After 8 the number of tablets and phones easily outnumber the hard copy. I haven't figured out the correlation; it doesn't seem to be that the majority of earlier commuters are older, which seems like the most obvious hypothesis. I've wondered if there's something about the type of jobs that require people to be there before 8:15 that predisposes them to book or newspaper reading, but I can't imagine what it is. The newspaper thing I find most interesting, because I noticed that on the train to Davis as well: many very early morning (I often caught a 6:30 train) commuters have newspapers. I wonder if there's something about the quiet rituals that make crazy early commutes more tolerable that supports the purchasing and reading of newspapers. And also perhaps, the space to read them? After 8 there is hardly a newspaper to be seen, but of course the trains are also much more crowded.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, people-watching is a venerable thing-to-do-while-you-wait. And I say this as someone who really did read all the shampoo bottles and cereal box sides as a nerdy only child who was happiest with her nose in a book.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


read that shit while you eat or wait for the train

I worked in advertising for ages and we used to joke about a poster site format that was known as 'cross tracks'. Loads of text and you know that bored suckers are gonna read it.
posted by colie at 12:13 PM on September 20, 2013


We are only "addicted" to our phones when nothing is happening because doing nothing is boring.

Doing nothing is difficult but it's certainly a skill worth acquiring, and the feeling of boredom is simply the suffering caused by having been too lazy to have done so.
posted by flabdablet at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yeah cellphones could facilitate all these great, otherwise unfathomable contact between people. Or I guess we could all be reading interesting things online. But that's not really what's happening. At least it wasn't for me.

Mostly I was reading the same internet fights about consumer products, or looking at the same shitty image macros for hours. I think the pushback on this video (here and elsewhere) is fascinating and many of us are addicted to a steady stream of distraction more so than we are willing to admit.

These devices have obviously won; there are a lot of them, they are growing at a fast rate, and they really are surprisingly expensive (Can you even have a smartphone for less than $500 a year?). So I guess what is surprising to me is how vigorously we feel we must defend them and our choice to use them.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do You Want Something to Read?
posted by brain_drain at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2013


If your kid is calling people "fat" and generally being nasty with their phone, that's on you, the parent. It's easier to blame the phone, though.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I preffered Dan Harmon's take:
"Then the iPhone came out and it was like, ok, this is gonna be great because this is now an accessory .. now everyone ... now, it's cool to whip it out, it's fine. You don't have to bring ordinary life to a halt just to, uh, try to catalog your ordinary life. But then the O. Henry twist on that is that all our lives became so intermingled with all these things, that ordinary life changed. I'm not a hipster luddite snob about it, I upgraded when we became cyborgs. I lost nothing and gained ... a world when we became borg. I prefer it. I don't miss anything from the old world. The only thing that I remember from the old world is a couple people going "Why's everybody on their phone all the time?" I LIKE that breakfasts are documentaries about documenting breakfast."
Harmontown episode 19
posted by Lorin at 12:25 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The irony for me is that 95% of the time, when I'm using my smartphone, I'm reading MetaFilter. The other 5% of the time I'm watching Louis C.K. videos.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:25 PM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


By which you mean "being bored"? Because I remember the world pre-smartphone, and there was a goddamn lot of just being bored and lonely in it, which I think we shouldn't romanticize into some samsara-and-zenlike higher condition.
posted by mhoye at 2:11 PM on September 20


Louise: So what happened? Were you bored in Manchester?

Johnny: Was I bored? No, I wasn't fuckin' bored. I'm never bored. That's the trouble with everybody – you're all so bored. You've 'ad nature explained to you, and you're bored with it. You've 'ad the living body explained to you, and you're bored with it. You've 'ad the universe explained to you, and you're bored with it. So now you just want cheap thrills and like plenty of 'em, and it dun matter 'ow tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new, as long as it's new, as long as it flashes and fucking bleeps in forty different colours. Well, whatever else you can say about me, I'm not fuckin' bored.
posted by four panels at 12:26 PM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


All of man's problems stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Pascal
posted by bukvich at 12:26 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


But on a different thought, doesn't being bored increase one's patience?
...
Doing nothing is difficult but it's certainly a skill worth acquiring


I don't disagree with these sentiments at all. I just feel like the default assumption is that no one has enough patience and/or can't handle being bored. Most people I know do have enough and can handle boredom and the rest are learning to as they get older.
posted by soelo at 12:28 PM on September 20, 2013


even though it's tempting to think that I could be using that time to read or something, because realistically you need some time to settle into something like a book, and that ten minutes is just going to leave you unsatisfied and probably won't net you much in terms of retention either.

Ha ha ha. No. I've gone through a lot of books over the decades while waiting at the bus stop, or the dentist, or the checkout line, or walking from the stores back home. The only difference with a phone is that it's quicker to get your place back in an ebook.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:29 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Being in one place? Is that like having just one tab open?
posted by srboisvert at 12:32 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm torn on this because he's right about always pulling out my phone whenever there is a lull of any kind. However, my smartphone also lets me do cool things like using Duolingo to study French while I poop. Hmm.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 12:32 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Everybody hates it when Jonathan Franzen says it, everybody loves it when Louis CK says it.

Franzen's argument was poorly made and had more to do with his obsession with Kraus (and himself) than observations of human interaction.

Louis CK can make observations without talking about a Fulbright scholarship:
That's why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they're killing, everybody's murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don't want to be alone for a second because it's so hard.
Louis CK seems to have a more reasonable argument: people are attached to their phones because they don't want to be alone.

Here's Franzen:
But a judgment like this obviously depends on what you mean by "humanity". Whether I like it or not, the world being created by the infernal machine of technoconsumerism is still a world made by human beings. As I write this, it seems like half the advertisements on network television are featuring people bending over smartphones; there's a particularly noxious/great one in which all the twentysomethings at a wedding reception are doing nothing but taking smartphone photos and texting them to one another. To describe this dismal spectacle in apocalyptic terms, as a "dehumanisation" of a wedding, is to advance a particular moral conception of humanity; and if you follow Nietzsche and reject the moral judgment in favour of an aesthetic one, you're immediately confronted by Bourdieu's persuasive connection of asethetics with class and privilege; and, the next thing you know, you're translating The Last Days of Mankind as The Last Days of Privileging the Things I Personally Find Beautiful
And he'd be saying the same thing if it was 1970 and the "kids" were using Polaroids and passing them around at the wedding. Franzen doesn't seem to apply any careful reasoning when there is an excuse to reference people and ideas that he fancies. I have only read a few of his articles, but it seems like he looks up big ideas and then tries to use them in nonsensical ways instead of doing serious thinking for himself.
posted by deanklear at 12:33 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


And he'd be saying the same thing if it was 1970 and the "kids" were using Polaroids and passing them around at the wedding.

I think he has a point here, though: smartphone photography has become primarily about performance rather than documentation. Who takes a picture on their smartphone to make a print? You put it on whatever popular social media service, and it's a statement about your orientation toward other people, rather than your orientation to the world.
posted by junco at 12:38 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, we used to read newspapers (or books or magazines or the back of the cereal box), instead.
posted by notyou at 12:40 PM on September 20, 2013


I cry at a different point in Jungleland, when the girl shuts out the bedroom light.

Only why did he have to say "cry like a bitch?" It wasn't necessary and it only made me think, if my mom were alive I would totally want to share this with her because she would agree and think the whole thing was funny, but then she'd flinch at "cry like a bitch" and dammit Louis, there's no good reason, why you gotta do that to mom?

To be fair he looked like he knew right there that he might have undercut his presentation for some people, used habitual language in an ineffective way, and I get the sense that he's always trying to fix his next approach. Maybe I'm hypersensitive today.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:40 PM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Who takes a picture on their smartphone to make a print?

What does making a print have to do with documentation? 99% of photos I take with my smartphone are auto-uploaded and stored and not shared with anyone. Sometimes I taken them for reference (poster for interesting event, etc) sometimes for memories, etc. But I rarely share them. To me this is documenting, whether they're being stored on a hard drive in some remote datacenter or on a piece of paper seems irrelevant.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:40 PM on September 20, 2013


I think it's best to not think about this stuff too much and go with your gut. You have to regulate your behavior now and again to make sure that going with your gut isn't causing harm, but you need to figure out how to minimize that regulation.

This is a pretty widely applicable suggestion.
posted by Kwine at 12:42 PM on September 20, 2013


Franzen's argument was poorly made and had more to do with his obsession with Kraus (and himself) than observations of human interaction.

Not that I liked everything about that Franzen piece, but dude, it was the preface of his book of translations of essays by Karl Kraus! It was supposed to be about Karl Kraus!
posted by escabeche at 12:43 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


My commute runs entirely on Chicago's Red Line subway, a situation with a) no reception and b) a non-negligible chance of personal electronics theft. If I don't have a book, here's how I pass the time:

-Try to dredge up enough high school French to eavesdrop on the impossibly dapper tourists near the doors.
-Nod in polite agreement as the gentleman sitting next to me explains that the government has turned Derrick Rose into a canine super-soldier by feeding him human flesh.
-Attempt to remember the eye colors of various friends.
-Wonder if I can go back to church with a clean conscience.
-Imagine how I would prevent September 11th if I was suddenly flung back in time thirteen years.
-Lay my hand on the one rhetorical pin that would have burst his argument.
-Reconstruct in my mind the layout of my childhood home when I was eight years old.
-Try to remember what comes after "yellow leaves, or none, or few."
-Admit to myself that I can still repair the situation; I only need to overcome the shame of leaving it so late.
-Decide to just order the damn thing from Amazon already, scruples be damned.
-Oh shit. That's tomorrow night, isn't it?

25 minutes go by quite quickly in this way. And then it's out the doors, up the escalator, up the stairs, into the weather, to check my favorites count.
posted by Iridic at 12:43 PM on September 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


When I look around me on the subway, most people are not reading anything serious.

Oddly enough, the last book I read on my phone was Dancing in the Glory of Monsters about the wars in Congo in the nineties and early 21st century.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:45 PM on September 20, 2013


I worked in advertising for ages and we used to joke about a poster site format that was known as 'cross tracks'. Loads of text and you know that bored suckers are gonna read it.

And we do. I even once found a grammatical error in one and used my smartphone to take a picture of it to send to the company CEO. I got a stock "thank you for taking the time to write" email back. Bastards.
posted by bondcliff at 12:47 PM on September 20, 2013


So, Louis CK is condemning distraction by smartphones ... and in the contrasting story with real, deep feelings these are triggered by a song on the radio?

Did he really not see the irony in that or is it the ultimate twist in his simile?
posted by Glow Bucket at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


But seriously, smart phones do kind of meet the same need--something to do with your hands, a little habitual routine

Very useful in awkward social situations when you're stuck with a bunch of semi strangers for work or hobby related reasons and everybody is still a bit stiff and you're feeling a bit left out; less looking like a dork if you're just quietly checking your phone.

Of course once everybody has drunken enough during a meetup, the phones disappear.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2013


Again: Louis CK is a dude who tells jokes, and is not trying to articulate a consistent aesthetic or moral philosophy.
posted by escabeche at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Well if there's one thing that being constantly connected to the internet has taught me, it's that nothing gets people riled up like suggesting that there might be anything at all wrong with any aspect of technology. Not entirely sure what's up with that, that comments come out like antibodies whenever it happens, to counterattack... or maybe it's like ants, defending a nest...

I think he's right about all this, and said it really well. Aside from worrying about their potential to be mean electronically, the thing about making eye contact with people, and about actually having to experience sadness/aloneness/life without constant recourse to instant gratification- those all sound like important and valuable things to want for his daughters, or for anybody.

There's a quote that I can only about half-remember, and I feel like it was maybe Hokusai? - so that I'm half-remembering probably a loose translation, but it's something like "the necessary ingredients of art are solitude and great boredom." Always thought that was dead-on, at least it fits my experience. I need to have that time he's talking about- of feeling that emptiness, in order to need something badly enough to actually create something. And the internet makes this incredibly hard, much less having it always available, so I can constantly click something like a rat in a hackneyed old study...

It certainly doesn't mean that the internet has a problem, maybe I have a problem with the internet, doesn't mean anybody else does, I'm sure your smartphone saves your life on a constant basis or whatever, no, its not a problem with technology, but it is- in some ways for at least some of us - a problem, and god bless the internet for showing me Louis CK saying so.

Because otherwise I might have had to be alone with my thoughts today, and nobody wants that...
posted by hap_hazard at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


Louis CK is a dude who tells jokes, and is not trying to articulate a consistent aesthetic or moral philosophy.

I'm a guy who comments on a blog and is not trying to articulate a consistent aesthetic or moral philosophy.
posted by colie at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Louis C.K. is on the money in my book. I have seen people blithely walk into a crosswalk completely engrossed in whatever asinine conversation they were having as cars barreled towards them. Yesterday I was out walking at a waterside park -- absolutely glorious day, sunny and mild, nice breeze, boats going by, just amazing. There were ospreys flying overhead, a heron even flew by a little bit later. All of this was completely lost on the young woman walking past in the opposite direction, headphones on, wrapped up in her music and email/IM/Twitter.

I own a smartphone and I love it, but honestly, the obsession people have with constantly communicating is a borderline mental illness. Put the damn phone down and look around. Life is going all around you, not on the little 4" screen.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 1:12 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


"that empty forever empty."

It really bothers me sometimes how perfectly he is able to articulate some of those things I attribute to my mental illnesses like depression.

I totally understand that empty forever empty. That void that will never fill, and that knowledge that no matter what else happens, we all die alone, and the cold empty universe won't care or notice or change.

He's so perfectly captured so many of my quiet fears and sadness. I laugh at his jokes because he's absolutely brilliant, but a lot of the pain that makes what he says funny hits really close to home for me.

I'm not giving up my smart phone though. Fuck that.
posted by quin at 1:13 PM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


If people weren't absorbed in their phones, we wouldn't have the delightful crashed Vespa Season of the Witch ad.

Never appreciated Donovan's version, but it's also been covered by Luna and Richard Thompson
posted by morganw at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2013


that knowledge that no matter what else happens, we all die alone, and the cold empty universe won't care or notice or change

You say that like you think it's a bad thing.

Personally I'm awestruck.
posted by flabdablet at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Louis CK is a dude who tells jokes, and is not trying to articulate a consistent aesthetic or moral philosophy.

I can still be disappointed to discover there is such a thin line between Louis CK and Andy Rooney.

I didn't have a smartphone when I was a kid, and I was a pretty bright, imaginative boy. I never had trouble entertaining myself.

But, man, sometimes you just run out. Sometimes you don't have the energy to mull over profound thoughts, or make fun for yourself. Or whatever. And so I would just count things. Or I would see how long I could hold my breath. And I would still be bored. Bored but at least I was counting. For whatever that was worth.

We're not all Zen monks, and some of us don't want to be. As long as we are civil about our smartphone use, I don't see who the hell's business it is what I do with it. So what if I'm reading an entertainment site? I like entertainment! It's not like if the smart phone was not there I'd be at one with the universe.

I'd just be holding my breath.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think serious condemnations of smartphones bother me so much because I feel like they are saying I am doing leisure time and social interaction wrong. The assumptions of people's motivations are especially galling to me. Please don't tell me how to entertain myself and I won't tell you how to entertain yourself. Don't tell my friends and family that our interactions are wrong when neither of us is insulted or hurt by the other.

And that sounds really defensive. But really, stop shaming people for doing things that aren't hurting anyone else. Yes, people do dumb things with phones like texting and driving, but me playing Pocket Planes is hurting no one.
posted by soelo at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I look around me on the subway, most people are not reading anything serious. They are mostly texting or playing games or reading vapid fluff.

All of the old Paris Review interviews are online now and I've discovered that they make ideal smartphone reading during boring moments. At 200+ I have plenty to last a while, so I'm not worrying too much about what I'll do when I finish them.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:31 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Generalizations about being alone in a specific situation from a semi-famous person are posted to a website, thus many comments are made on a webpage which contains ads for singles in your area.

It's the circle of life!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:35 PM on September 20, 2013


I teach in a middle school for kids who've had problems in school and I have to say that this is a huge problem. The kids can't sit and listen during attendence, for instance, because they aren't being engaged that exact second. And they can't listen to oral instructions, everything has to be written down, preferrably on a screen with pictures. I was one of those kids in the special class for people who can't sit still, so I sympathize with the kids, I really do. And it's a challenge as a teacher, to come up with work that's as fun as checking Facebook. But... I dunno, it's just hard to anything in that kind of environment. The school in Loups Garrous, full of kids who do individual work on computer screems with only a "fascillitator" there to make sure they talk to each other and don't kill each other, is the future.

(please excuse spelling mistakes, I'm writing this on my smartphone and the screen-scroll is
womku.)
posted by subdee at 1:39 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I remember MeFi comments:
I've long held a pet theory which I call the Background Noise Theory. The background noise theory is quite simple: stupid people, violent people, and people who are emotionally damaged need to have background noise in their lives at all times to drown out their internal critical dialogue ...
Have you ever known people who have to turn on a TV or a radio the moment they enter a room, or can't stand to do work without some sound on? These are people who are desperately afraid of confronting some truth about themselves, so they try to drown it out with constant distractions ...
The noise can also be mental - constant text messaging, video game playing, etc to fill up the isolated islands to downtime in everyone's day ...
When taken together, the desire for and generation of audio and visual noise, what you have is the psychological antithesis of a zen garden. It is the Noise Garden.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:43 AM on September 4, 2007
posted by dgaicun at 1:40 PM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with reading, texting, playing, etc (unless you're driving) but I think the ability to do nothing without it driving you crazy is an important skill to develop...whether it's while walking, waiting in lines, or during conversational lulls with other people.
One day a week without your smart phone wouldn't kill you. Just leave it at home. You might even find yourself looking forward to it.
posted by rocket88 at 1:44 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


All of this was completely lost on the young woman walking past in the opposite direction, headphones on, wrapped up in her music and email/IM/Twitter.

My dad used to tell me to "put the book away" when we were traveling somewhere on vacation. "Look outside! See something!" he'd say. And of course he was right. I could read any time but I might not have another chance to see whatever country we were driving through. That wasn't the fault of print though, it was the fault of the way I used it. Same with smartphones, etc.

I've long held a pet theory which I call the Background Noise Theory.

Which, in Pastabagel's case was the sound of his own voice.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:50 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


When we are in public, though, the choice is not typically between silence and background noise. It is between our background noise and everybody else's background noise.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:57 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Louis CK seems to have a more reasonable argument: people are attached to their phones because they don't want to be alone.

Meh, I kinda love being alone and I also love that I can play a simplified version of Civilization on my phone on long trips. And having someone to text sort of implies you have that person in your life, so it can't be all that lonely. Most of my texting is done with my wife, about whether I should pick something up from the grocery store on the way home.

My own theory on why people text and drive? Because they think they're the exception and that when they do it it's not the same as when other people do it, see, because they're good drivers and other people are stupid and irresponsible behind the wheel. They're not thinking about taking a life and ruining their own, because obviously that won't happen to them, they're good drivers. No one thinks they suck at driving, and way too many people think they're good enough at driving to do something else at the same time.
posted by Hoopo at 1:58 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The thing about not using your phone is that you're not doing nothing, you're experiencing your surroundings. Being there. Being there with everything else and everyone else.
posted by pracowity at 1:58 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


This thread is making me want to smoke a doobie!
posted by Mister_A at 2:00 PM on September 20, 2013


I'd rather be there though. Not here. [There = The Land of Krynn.]
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:00 PM on September 20, 2013


I'm saving up my luddite outrage for when the Google glasses take off.

YOU KIDS TODAY MATCHING LIKE-COLORED CANDIES BY TWITCHING YOUR EYEBALLS HAVE LOST TOUCH WITH SOMETHING MEANINGFUL AND IMPORTANT; IN MY DAY WE HAD TO CRADLE A PHONE IN OUR HAND AND SLIDE OUR FINGERS ACROSS ITS SCREEN, YOU'VE LOST THAT TACTILE CONNECTION AND I PITY YOU
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:01 PM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


I just watched Labyrinth for the first time. Despite a lot of silly acting, it's really good, and definitely about this. It's OK to want to escape reality sometimes, but too much glittering tech-assisted imaginary-world obsession can make you hate the baby when it cries.

For me, I like to be alone sometimes & look at the dirt. Whenever I do I get something good out of it. I rarely get anything good out of refreshing Tumblr for 8 hours.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:05 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm on the fence. On one hand I get that people don't like to be bored. Of course, otoh, the world can be far more interesting than your smartphone if you just take a look around.

There's also the fact that the mass use of smartphones by the majority of the people involved in any given circumstance is fucking creepy.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:06 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


you're experiencing your surroundings. Being there. Being there with everything else and everyone else
Which is great if it is a worthwhile place or group of people, but experiencing a bus or coffee shop or waiting room with random others does not add anything to my life. Reading a book while there does, reading my friend's post about her newborn does, and even flying virtual cargo to Delhi does.
posted by soelo at 2:08 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And if we're complaining about people using smartphones, I would like to chime in with this:

For the love of God, if you are not watching where you are going, just fucking stop and step to the side, out of the way. Do not walk at your usual pace while staring at the screen of your smartphone and typing away. It is not everyone else's job to watch where you're going, it's your fucking job and yours only.

Also just FYI now that you can take a phone call anywhere in public you should be advised that it looks dumber than ever when you're gesticulating, especially when you have a headset thingy and you're talking with both hands.
posted by Hoopo at 2:15 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reminds my of something my mom said to me when I was about twelve. "You need to come up with a better argument than, because everybody else is doing it."

Everybody is making friends, staying in touch with them, and arranging to meet them in physical space. Should they stop doing that stuff too since it's online? Everybody else is doing it.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is a difference between

Never use smart phones because they are bad

and

You may be better off if you can cultivate some resilience to boredom, sadness, and just being on your own.

CK seems to be advocating for [B] in the video.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:27 PM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


Harlan Ellison, from a comment link the other day:

I can’t use a computer. Despise it. It’s like another entity trying to get in my head and interfering and bothering me. Everybody wants you to keep up with the technology, not because they want you to, but because they feel like such suckers for being sold this shit and they don’t want to be all alone. So they try and make you go along with it. Nobody pushes me into doing what I don’t want to do. I’m a happily 20th-Century man. I use two Dixie Cups with a wax string between them.
posted by ovvl at 2:28 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


> ...experiencing a bus or coffee shop or waiting room with random others does not add anything to my life.
Your mileage may vary, then. I've had a number of interesting conversations with strangers waiting in various lines, rooms, and stops.

Not to say My Interactions are better than Your Interactions; we may each be avoiding the forever emptiness in different ways. I think the argument is more about finding the sweet spot or even just an acceptable balance of introspection, stimulation, and interaction with others; and not everybody is doing so well with this.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 2:32 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Growing up my dad never took us to visit his family in East Texas, for reasons he delicately put to me and my sister. That side of the family had severe depression and many suicides, and he escaped. Keeping in mind genetics, he always checked on our mental well being, depression, and freaked us out asking if we ever had any thoughts of suicide. (never had the urge or any long-term depression)
He always told us his extended family were extremely smart, but stuck in this small town where the only entertainment was watching the grass grow, getting in fights with relatives, or drug / alcohol abuse (NOT to say all small towns are like this, but this was a toxic environment). He compared his relatives to being parrots who've been stuck in a covered cage their entire lives. Bored. Severely bored.

Why does this relate to smartphones?
Having the choice of stimulation is godsent. I remember my first shitty job I was so insanely bored that I counted the minutes the last two hours. Literally counting the minutes. I listened to the elevator music playing and played the songs on air-piano, made up lyrics for it, counted the tiles in the ceiling. This was 8 hours a day every day and I vowed to by god get a college degree and try to avoid that hell ever again.
Is that nostalgic, charming, a better way to spend your daily lulls? No thanks.

Maybe it's not so much about having a smart phone versus not having one... but managing a balance of staring at a wall as a way of "being" and perhaps opening up the outside world in a small handheld device.
posted by hillabeans at 2:38 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


i'm honestly less defensive about "oh no people are criticizing my smartphone use" than i am about the rampant intellectual elitism and value judgements based on what people are supposedly reading. i mean those trash people reading their vacant fluff! no one should ever read anything that isn't worthwhile literature - even a commute should be dedicated solely and always to furthering oneself, not texting friends and reading FLUFF
posted by titus n. owl at 2:50 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


99% of photos I take with my smartphone are auto-uploaded and stored and not shared with anyone.

Just one hour ago I took a picture of a 5kg jar of Nutella in Costco, for no other reason than it was a big fuckoff jar of Nutella. And then I texted it to my husband, who agreed with my assessment. Good or Evil?
posted by KathrynT at 3:03 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aside from the fact that Louis CK's argument doesn't appear to apply exclusively to smartphones – because I'd assume that people texting back and forth on a plain old Nokia 3310 would come in for the same treatment – what if the moment you want to have with yourself (and that isn't a euphemism) isn't possible just standing at the bus stop, or waiting in a queue, or what have you?

You: *stands at bus stop, taking in surroundings; notes chaffinch on tree over the road*
Someone else waiting for the bus: "Cold out, this morning, innit?"
You: *noncommittal grunt indicating you acknowledge someone is talking to you, giving mild agreement in the hope they won't say anything else*
SEWFTB: *Sybil Fawlty voice* "Ooooh, I knoooow. And there was me thinking I shouldn't bother wearing my proper overcoat this morning."
You: "Hmmm, yes."
*Discussion continues ad nauseam until the fucking bus arrives and you're now at the point where you're actively looking forward to getting to work.*

You: *stands at bus stop, reading a book, which you're obviously engrossed in*
SEWFTB: "Oh, is that a good book? You're right wrapped up in it."
You: "yeah, it's good." *goes back to reading book*
SEWFTB: "Oh, I could never get the hang of reading whole books. Only thing I read is the sports pages and the racing results. Tried to read the Da Vinci Code, once, but it was fucking boring ... Thought the film was great, though, had this cracking French bird in it ..."
*Discussion stiltedly continues ad bloody nauseam until the fucking bus arrives and you're now at the point where you're actively looking forward to getting to work.*
posted by Len at 3:05 PM on September 20, 2013


KathrynT: Just one hour ago I took a picture of a 5kg jar of Nutella in Costco, for no other reason than it was a big fuckoff jar of Nutella. And then I texted it to my husband, who agreed with my assessment

Now I'm retrospectively jealous that when I was in a French supermarket years back, which sold both huge – we're talking maybe 9 or 10 inches in diameter - BabyBels, and similarly outside school pencils – an inch or so thick; 15-odd inches long – we didn't have a means of play-acting a whole load of "Look we've been shrunk! We need rescued!" pics, capturing them instantly and sharing them with everyone else we knew.
posted by Len at 3:10 PM on September 20, 2013


"Man, a standup comedian is promoting an attitude that runs a little contrary to this habit that I just picked up in the last five years. Clearly, this habit is now completely inextricable from who I am and what kind of life I lead. Just to be safe, I'd better call this comedian rude and also a judgmental elitist, that will make me feel more secure about my total attachment to something that wasn't even a part of my life just a few years ago."
posted by Nomyte at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


Adam Gopnik wrote a terrific article in the New Yorker a while back in which he pointed out that whatever the latest technology is, it's the identified monster. It used to be that people said, "Turn off the TV and talk to your family!" and now they say, "Get off your {gadget} and come watch TV with your family!"

And in the early 19th century it was, of all things, the proliferation of heating stoves, which would, by heating a room more uniformly, cause the breakdown of the family, which had previously spent its time together huddled around the hearth. John Greenleaf Whittier's poem Snow-Bound is in part a nostalgic look back at the golden era of the hearth.
posted by not that girl at 3:21 PM on September 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sure, if there are earlier analogs then they must surely be exactly as relevant as the smart phone.
posted by mr. digits at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2013


Sure, if there are earlier analogs then they must surely be exactly as relevant as the smart phone.

I don't understand what you mean by this.
posted by not that girl at 3:31 PM on September 20, 2013


I mean that changing the subject from what CK argues -- and please note that I watched the fifteen-minute clip, not the shorter excerpt, and may be assuming more knowledge concerning the argument on people's part than the excerpt delivered -- does nothing to refute it.

That being said, it's true that I am inferring that the topic of objections to efficient heating is being offered as more than an amusing and roughly similar anecdote, and may well be out of line.
posted by mr. digits at 3:45 PM on September 20, 2013


This Youtube video doesn't work in Australia. So it probably doesn't work outside America in general.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2013


Maybe because it's the end of the day, but I'm still not sure what you're saying mr. digits.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:34 PM on September 20, 2013


Dear lord, not that girl, is that true? I never heard that and I spend more time than is healthy reading up on 19th century people's weird obsessions.

But clearly: not enough.
posted by emjaybee at 4:45 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sometimes technology is good and obvious and the future and get out of the way. Sometimes technology is a dead end.

It just seems like lately every bit of tech is the former.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:46 PM on September 20, 2013


what if the moment you want to have with yourself (and that isn't a euphemism) isn't possible just standing at the bus stop, or waiting in a queue, or what have you?
Accepting the moment that you're actually living in, and not trying so hard to curate all these reassuring, entertaining, distracting artificial moments to help you forget you're alive, is the core of this thing, I think. If you're in a place where you're compulsively trying to blot out reality whenever you're unplugged, it's probably a good time to do some reflecting and think about changes. I say that with no judgement; this isn't strictly a technology thing, it's a pretty old human condition thing, it's just that modern technology complicates it a bit by being an easy and tempting distraction. In a sense, I'm caving to it right now by reading the comments here and typing out my own thoughts when I have other things I could be doing.

Also on books: it's different. Books are linear, even when their structures are not. Even if you have ten books open in front of you and you're cross-referencing between them, your focus is always pointed at a single thing at a time. Computers and smart phones have too many simultaneous things going on; I can see a little blinking light in the bottom right of my screen as I type this, which on a subconscious level makes me feel distracted, overwhelmed and scattered in a way that traditional media doesn't. It's that constant barrage of noise that can make connected technology uncomfortable for me.
posted by byanyothername at 4:49 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I didn't think I was depressed, but I'm starting to wonder what it means that I found this bit profoundly insightful and related to it in a way that I very rarely find.

I don't really care about the phones, one way or another, but to hear someone talk with such eloquence and insight about what, to me, is so fundamental and axiomatic about what it means to exist as a human is very moving.

Maybe I'm just not paying attention, but it's like these essential things are just never talked about. The overwhelming beauty of sadness. I love how he says "we're lucky to live sad moments." The essence of just sitting and being. That core empty-forever-empty center of your being. The things usually reserved for exploration through art.

When I was younger I used to feel most conversations were just BS. That's what shooting the shit is about. It's this "well we're both here, let's just talk about BS to distract ourselves from the fact that everything's meaningless and we're all going to die. For God's sake let's not talk about that." So we've just accepted as a society to talk about the weather, or how the sports team did last night or whatever. And not to talk about those other things. It's just polite.

But you start to wonder if you're the only one who thinks about them.

I'm reminded of DFW talking about listening to country music and imagining the emotion in the song is really about that sort of existential dread instead of these superficial banalities, but then realizing that they're really one and the same -- that everything is the same anyway. The weather, sports, is just as real and important as those universal questions and angst, and those simple things might in fact be the only thing keeping us sane anyway.

For me these moments of... like self-awareness, like that feeling of "this is me, I'm alive" and those moments of overwhelming sadness are so essential and important that I'm not going to let some meaningless BS thing like technology threaten that, even in a small way, because they are so far on different planes of importance. And that's not to say technology doesn't even drive these spiritual or human or whatever-you-want-to-call-it experiences from time to time... like a conversation through texting you wouldn't have any other way, or hearing a song on the radio... but, and I'm not a religious person, but it's like that saying, "If your right arm causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away." And that's the message I got from CK. Not that phones are a scourge on the Earth and should vanish forever, but that they can, if you're not careful and have a certain temperament, be a stumbling block for you to feel alive. Not even to just feel alive but to really live.
posted by Flaffigan at 5:03 PM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Default Mode Network.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Default_mode_network
posted by pfh at 5:11 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I am stuck in places without my smartphone, I just think of all of my health problems, lost opportunities and personal failings. It really helps the time fly by.
posted by Renoroc at 5:11 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I feel like the techno-panic framing cuts against what makes the routine, and especially the final punchline, funny rather than moralistic (as a lot of people here seem to be taking it). It's not just a non sequitur, because it deliberately undercuts his authority (something he's always doing) rather than moralizing about his experience. Isn't the take-away from the final punchline something like: look how ridiculous it is that I made the leap from one painful moment in my complicated lifelong struggle to live mindfully to this one little Father-knows-best rule, as if I could somehow make my kids have that epiphany so easily?
posted by RogerB at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


... I have to say that this is a huge problem. The kids can't sit and listen during attendance, for instance ... And it's a challenge as a teacher, to come up with work that's as fun as [doing any damn thing that's more interesting than schoolwork or 'behaving' generally is]

Same as it ever was... Teachers were saying the exact same thing when I was a kid and Tim Berners-Lee hadn't graduated from high school yet (and no doubt long before that as well). Seriously, I got yelled at for drawing, using a pencil and paper, instead of quote-unquote paying attention in class. Maybe that's just, y'know, kids? And especially "problem kids"?
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:45 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've had a number of interesting conversations with strangers waiting in various lines, rooms, and stops.
I have had lots of interesting conversations on my phone, usually on metafilter and facebook. It is the view that everyone must engage in meatspace interaction that I don't understand.

I find it interesting that some people are defaulting to 'using phone' = 'not being social' and others to 'using phone' = 'being too social'. You can't win no matter what you do.
posted by soelo at 6:05 PM on September 20, 2013


I went to Burning Man this year, and the only time I missed my smartphone was when I was waiting for something, and there was nothing else to do but wait. Like, waiting outside the tent for my girlfriend to change her costume. In that moment, I wanted my smartphone. I don't really see anything wrong with that. I don't see how standing there and twiddling my thumbs is somehow more worthwhile when they don't have a phone between them.

Thing is, Burning Man is a full-on interactive lifechanging experience, full of people who are down for a conversation and lots of fun stuff to look at. There are few moments when there is truly nothing fun to look at or do. However, the "default world" (read : not Burning Man) presents many more situations where there's not really anything to do. Like waiting for a train. Yeah, I could stand there and people-watch, but after a while, I've looked at all the people, and they weren't all that interesting to look at anyway, and in that situation, checking my email is far more enjoyable and worthwhile than just standing there staring off into space.
posted by evil otto at 6:07 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what psychological condition is characterized by constant boredom and desire for stimulation? Sociopathy. Maybe all the recent stories on the blue about people being inexplicably, mercilessly cruel to complete strangers who've done them no harm are related to that aching boredom so many people claim to feel despite their being absolutely no shortage of entertainments to choose from. There's actually some decent research into the subject of how these things can effect people's expectations for novel experiences and their patience.

Despite the popularity of the sentiment as expressed upthread, people were not always bored just sitting quietly for hours in the past before cell phones. In fact, even in those slow, dull days of yore some comments up thread invoke, many people still felt the pace of life was too hectic and escaped into relatively passive activities like fishing, looking out the window, or taking a liesurely stroll with no particular destination.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:12 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Man, I think we were having a pretty reasonable discussion here before you leveled the implication that everyone who likes using their smartphone in free moments is a sociopath.
posted by invitapriore at 6:16 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


A lot more people died of scurvy and wolves in the past too. Just because it's old doesn't make it good.

If you have to resort to "sociopathy" and "days of yore" in the same comment, chances are your horse is too damn high. Or you are.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:43 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


chances are your horse is too damn high. Or you are.

Why do those have to be mutually exclusive?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:46 PM on September 20, 2013


Man, I think we were having a pretty reasonable discussion here before you leveled the implication that everyone who likes using their smartphone in free moments is a sociopath.


Sorry if that's how that came across.

I didn't mean to overstate it that much. (I also didn't mean to spell "there" as "their"). But I think there is at least some potential for these things to aggravagate preexisting tendencies toward those kinds of mental issues. There are actual borderline people in the world; it's not unthinkable too much smart phone use could effect people with predispositions toward mental illness.

I don't actually hate the things. I just wish it didn't always feel like we're at the mercy of whatever new consumer tech/tools come down the pike. Can't we ever do anything with restraint and moderation? It doesn't seem that way to me.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:56 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Life is going all around you, not on the little 4" screen.

I don't think this is quite right. Certainly stuff is going on all around you, but much of that stuff is lacking sufficient context to constitute "life" in a fulfilling and non-alienating manner. It's not the fault of smartphones that we're mostly strangers to each other, mostly distrustful, if not downright condemnatory. We are, mostly, unable to tell the sort of fulfilling stories that constitute the stuff of life, when the material we have to work with is a sea of largely unknown faces doing largely unknown things for largely unknowable motives. So we look to a world with narrative constraints we understand, with people we know in it, or concepts we recognise. The smartphone is the best tool so far devised for enabling that, but the search itself isn't some 21st century malaise, it's the condition of every post-feudal society.

That said, the burden of constructing one's own identity is growing ever heavier, as the alienating effects of later capitalism continue to grow. We are looking for tools to help us with the lifting. Technology is responding to a need to make sense of a largely senseless world, it's a flawed attempt at a solution to the problem, not the problem itself.
posted by howfar at 6:58 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


But please, don't think I was trying to look down on anyone. I'm as addicted to tech as anyone. Hell, I can barely stand to sit in a room by myself without a TV on at night for a minute.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:00 PM on September 20, 2013


I love my phone. I love filling the dead spots in my day with MeFi or whatever distractions come up. Waiting in line, mostly. Looking things up on long car trips. Just last week I was waiting in line at Disney World and was looking up what ride Captain EO replaced. I didn't spend my whole trip on the phone, but between the Disny app and Wikipedia I was all set for peak park knowledge.
I did see something that took me aback. We were on Splash Mountain, which is a dark ride that turns into a flume, and I noticed a girl ahead of us had her phone out. That's normal, plenty of people take pictures on the rides. But she was using FaceTime! I could see a man with his face in his hands, looking bored. I was waiting for her to drop it during the final plummet, but I guess she held on. The funny thing is that in the picture they take as you go down the hill everyone was screaming except her. She was just looking at her phone.
posted by Biblio at 7:06 PM on September 20, 2013


I think people focusing on the smart phone philistinism of C.K's screed might be missing his real message regarding the cost of being too distracted to face one's own relative cosmic insignificance when it's staring right at you.
posted by STFUDonnie at 7:39 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


"If you start checking your phone on a rollercoaster or in the middle of sex then I'll be worried".

I've checked my phone while having sex on a rollercoaster. It has its ups and downs.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:48 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think people focusing on the smart phone philistinism of C.K's screed might be missing his real message regarding the cost of being too distracted to face one's own relative cosmic insignificance when it's staring right at you.
posted by STFUDonnie

Not quite eponysterical, but something akin to it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:18 PM on September 20, 2013


> For the love of God, if you are not watching where you are going, just fucking stop and step to the side, out of the way.

Imagine trying to walk around the campus of a company that makes these things.

Then, imagine the cafeteria at lunch time, after wild success has swelled the ranks of you colleagues way beyond what the facilities were designed for.

Excuse me sir/ma'am, could you please put your phone down?
posted by morganw at 8:19 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've checked my phone while having sex on a rollercoaster. It has its ups and downs.

I've checked my phone while having sex in an elevator. It was wrong on so many levels.
posted by dgaicun at 8:43 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've checked my phone while having sex on the boundary between the US and Canada...but really, I only consider that a borderline transgression at most.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:57 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Excuse me sir/ma'am, could you please yt put your phone down?

not gonna lie, the repeated iphone text message chime in the chorus of that song actually made me agitated. Like "oh I have a message! i should check it!"
posted by KathrynT at 9:14 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


experiencing a bus or coffee shop or waiting room with random others does not add anything to my life. Reading a book while there does

The person who wrote the book would probably have chosen to experience the coffee shop or waiting room.
posted by pracowity at 9:35 PM on September 20, 2013


"No one knows how to sit without being entertained anymore.

By which you mean "being bored"? Because I remember the world pre-smartphone, and there was a goddamn lot of just being bored and lonely in it, which I think we shouldn't romanticize into some samsara-and-zenlike higher condition."

wow, 80 recs. no cell phone and he was bored and lonely and most folks agree.
posted by dougiedd at 11:48 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Forget just not being able to sit, what about peeing and pooping?

I'd say the average age at my school is 25. Now, it's one thing when you're the one excreting and the person two feet away is talking about how the bookstore is blah blah blah; what about when *they* are excreting and talking?

There are two tragedies here:

1) They are talking on the phone and pooping and peeing. Just WHY WHY OH THE HUMANITY
2) I fear they are losing the knowledge that sometimes a high-quality poop in silence is where the magic happens.
posted by angrycat at 4:40 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not like people here are arguing against Louie because oh noooes! defensiveness! I think people here are saying they think Louis is wrong because, well, we think he's wrong. And his routine is less funny to me for its being so, because Louie's not an absurdist or a quipper, he's a "brutal dose of honesty expressed so concisely it's hilarious" guy; when I think what he's saying is bullshit, then he's not funny, he's an ignorant middle-aged man with a knack for turning everything into existentialism. Which, I know it's why some people like him a lot, it used to be a selling point for me too, but now it comes off to me as repetitive and not all that interesting. Every routine of his is the same damn thing, and "curmudgeon + existentialism" isn't such a deep wellspring that I keep finding it enjoyable. At this point it's clear that he's a much better TV writer than he ever was a comedian, IMHO.

The argument about phones being overstimulating/people trying to escape boredom/we need to learn stillness Buddhism yay! strikes me as equally wrongheaded, and I say this as a huge proponent of meditation and Buddhism. More often than not, I go to my phone to avoid overstimulation. I go to my phone because I want to be bored. I want that comfortable routine to give me a space to be alone with my thoughts. I'll put a Fountains of Wayne song on repeat, take a deep breath, and stare out the window, alone and content with my own head. I've found that I'm more creative on a train with a smartphone than I am just about anywhere else, and it's because my phone makes it so easy for me to focus inwardly.

As for the people complaining about it being an important skill to confront banality and mundanity without being bored by it, then turn around to complain about people texting rather than reading great literature... there's a paradox to that argument that I hope is immediately apparent. That experience of the banal being deep, the deep being banal, everything in life reflecting the same deep truth of loneliness amidst a vast uncaring universe, well, if you don't feel that way every time you check Facebook, you are clearly not using Facebook correctly. A large part of my own fascination with surfaces and depth and shallowness and profundity was inspired by my youthful escapades on social networks, confronting the fact that a person's surface online is simultaneously trivial and deceptively enticing: you're only seeing the nothings they feel are worth sharing, but at the same time those nothings hide the rockiness and turbulence of their real moment-to-moment selves. You end up sneering at them for all the wrong reasons and liking them for all the wrong ones as well. It's a fascinating phenomenon that I've been meaning to write an essay about for a little while now, but in my experience it's a far more reflective and introspective (and troubling) process than people here are giving it credit for.

If you think Facebook's an easy escape from your need to confront yourself, I'd like to propose that actually Facebook works the opposite of that. I find it way easier to avoid troubling internal conflict when I step away from Facebook than when I keep it nearby me. And yes, that's a reason in itself to not get too caught up in Facebook, but it's the exact opposite of the reason Louie's giving here. The people I know who use Tumblr obsessively, I mean hours a day obsessively, are far more acutely aware of their own loneliness and impending death than the people I know who are always walking through parks and shit. And when I kept a Tumblr blog, I was that way too. People are less oblivious than Louie, and some people here, let on.

This, ultimately, is why I think the people who are critical of this routine may sound as bothered by it as they do. Implicit in this routine is this notion that the people who love their smartphones are somehow less self-aware, less mature, less capable of confronting their own human nature, than people who don't have smartphones. And it's just not true. People run the gamut of experiences and personal conflicts regardless of if they're doing it on a phone or elsewhere. Having a phone doesn't make you any more of an escapist, any more of a self-immolator, than driving around in a car listening to the radio does. You think I don't have Jungleland on my phone? You think I don't have a good cry every now and then in my train compartment? I mean, Louie doesn't need to have a working theory of aesthetics and philosophy, but his routine has to make some sort of sense, and to me it felt like a lot of grumpy, patronizing bullshit. And now people in this thread are sharing their theories about why people with smartphones are missing out, failing to connect, etc., and feeling awfully glad of themselves to finally have a pop culture guy reinforcing their views that their own idiosyncratic preferences are in fact making them into better [more connected, more loving, more human] people.

Honestly, I preferred Jonathan Franzen's essay to this bit. Franzen is aware of the oxymoronicness of being an older man complaining about the younger generation; his essay was ultimately about realizing that the world he thought he knew was disappearing, and that the apocalypse he feels like he's seeing is only the end of the world for him. Louie does some great routines where he's the butt of the joke, but the ones where he criticizes others makes it more apparent that he is, in fact, a flawed and not-always-insightful person who is way more understanding of why he sucks than he is of why he thinks other people do.

sent from my iPhone
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:59 AM on September 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


My kid and I spend a lot of time chatting on Facebook (on the actual chat, not so much on the wall.)

The other day she messages me a pic of her face so she can show me her new haircut. As I'm admiring the picture she says, "I'm pooping, by the way."

I ask "Is that your poop face then?" She says "no, that's my 'trying not to make my poop face' face."

Then she snaps another picture where she is making an exaggerated scrunched-up face, and I say OMG, that looks EXACTLY like your dad's poop face! and she ROFLs.

Touching family moment made possible by smart phone technology and the magic of the Internet. Wouldn't this be just perfect for one of those heartwarming iPhone commercials with the wistful music playing in the background?
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:04 AM on September 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Rory--there are lots of first person accounts in this very thread, however, that suggest for many, these things may have addictive effects and may lead some to experience increased feelings of anxiety and boredom, and I've personally experienced some of this, too. So maybe not everyone gets the same effect, but it seems to me enough people do that it's not a concern to dismiss too lightly. Besides, there are also plausible explanations from the behaviorial sciences for how such effects might occur by conditioning users overtime to have increased expectations of novel stimulus and reward feedbacks, so these issue at least merit some serious consideration and study IMO.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:35 AM on September 21, 2013


Have you kids never heard of Mcluhan?
posted by temporicide at 7:58 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for the people complaining about it being an important skill to confront banality and mundanity without being bored by it, then turn around to complain about people texting rather than reading great literature... there's a paradox to that argument that I hope is immediately apparent.

I'm pretty sure those were different sets of people making those two arguments.

Also, quiet time free from distractions is not Buddhism. Even for non-Buddhists, having your mind and your body occupy the same time and space now and then can have significant benefits. And you don't have to be doing nothing for that to happen, so boredom and banality aren't mandatory.
posted by rocket88 at 8:08 AM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]



Have you kids never heard of Mcluhan?


As I have come to grasp it, one of Marshall McLuhan's key observations is that technologies are ever evolving, and thus, our relationship with any one of them is never static. Indeed, it's best to think of them as wheel. As one communication technology achieves dominance in our consciousness, another gets shoved to the side ... but as with a wheel, nothing ever goes away forever, just swings through a redundant phase during which it will morph somewhat, eventually to reappear albeit in different clothing ....

Take letter writing. In the 19th Century it was huge. A "modern" city would have multiple deliveries in a given day starting first thing in the morning. So if I wanted to have meet my friend Frank for lunch, I'd mail him first thing, ask if he was available" a terse twenty-five word note naming a time/location and not much else. He'd respond with a quick, Yes, which I'd receive by mid/late morning and voila! We'd meet for lunch. Needless to say, first the telegraph and then the telephone blew these sort of arrangements out of the water -- made them redundant.

Except now, with email, texting, messaging, we're pretty much doing exactly the same thing again, only extrapolated -- all manner of terse little messages flying back and forth, making life more efficient, convenient etc. This is the wheel having come around -- the sending of short text messages having knocked talking on the phone (and/or leaving voice messages) from the top spot, downward unto redundancy ... and so on.

But this is just what works for us now. What about next? What will come along soon enough to knock texting etc from the top spot? Because something will come.

Which gets me back to my position -- the guy who still hasn't bothered to own a so-called smartphone. Maybe I never will. Maybe I can just sit this stage out. It certainly worked with faxing. I doubt I've sent or received a dozen faxes in my life, and yet there was that moment in the 90s when I was told I had to own a fax machine, or else be redundant. And maybe I was, but only for a while.

Maybe this is what I've been waiting for, an even smarter phone -- one that actually lets me dictate what I want from it, allows me to detail it in such a way that it serves my needs/desires first, before those of various manufacturers, marketers etc ...

Maybe.
posted by philip-random at 11:38 AM on September 21, 2013


Implicit in this routine is this notion that the people who love their smartphones are somehow less self-aware, less mature, less capable of confronting their own human nature, than people who don't have smartphones. And it's just not true.

As I am in Australia and therefore not able to view TFA without jumping through VPN hoops that I cannot be arsed to set up, what I am about to write might be proven instantly wrong by reference to what Louis actually says. But I've watched a lot of his work, and I find it hard to believe that people who love their smartphones are in his sights so much as those who need their smartphones.

Many, many people become miserable and anxious when deprived of a precious object that needs to be coddled and protected and endlessly funded. That's genuinely sad.
posted by flabdablet at 11:51 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


::ctrl-f Buddhism::

I think that if he sounds like a Buddhist, it's because he is expressing very clearly a truth that Buddhist practice is tailor-made to expose. It's not a Buddhist truth, but it's a truth that reveals itself whenever one sits quietly, without a purpose, regularly, as part of a practice. Also, if people do not want to sit quietly and feel what's on the other side of boredom, I can't think of a good reason why they should. Some people don't feel oppressed by the need for entertainment; others do, some very deeply.
posted by jwhite1979 at 4:01 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mindful Cyborgs Interviews Alex Soojung-Kim Pang on Contemplative Computing and the Distraction Addiction

Mindful Cyborgs and Contemplative Computing, Part 2
posted by homunculus at 6:54 PM on September 21, 2013


Also, if people do not want to sit quietly and feel what's on the other side of boredom, I can't think of a good reason why they should.

I agree 100% with your comment, but propose one caveat to the bit quoted above: if some people's discomfit with boredom compels them to commit acts of cruelty against others, either online or in their flesh and blood lives, then that might be a good reason for them to consider putting down the gadgets now and then and learning to feel content in those stretches of boredom. Obviously not everyone finds themselves bullying strangers to the point of suicide on the internet to relieve the ache of boredom, but some people do. For them, learning to sit comfortably and contentedly in complete silence might just help.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:38 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


@saulgoodman
I considered saying exactly that, but I decided it might be too provocative an idea to endorse in a mixed--i.e. largely non-Buddhist--discussion. I thought it might sound like I was making a claim about mindfulness meditation's potential to curb violent behavior, which clearly I think it does, but around here I'd have to have three to five good citations to back up such a statement, and I don't feel like cherry-picking on Google Scholar just now. :)
posted by jwhite1979 at 9:11 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reflects my experience quite well. I am the sort of person that, even before the existence of smartphones, was constantly needing some sort of distraction during moments of boredom. I'd carry books with me all of the time -- once I even ruined a bicycle because I crashed into a parked car while trying to read and bike at the same time!

It is precisely for this reason that I do not want a phone (smart or otherwise). I know if I had one, I would feel a pressure to check it all of the time. But I've learned as I've aged that when I do that -- when I spend a lot of time online, or checking my emails, or basically doing anything other than engaging with the actual real world in front of me -- I'm just a lot more unhappy. I'm more stressed and get less joy out of life. I miss all of the small things, and it's usually not even for a good reason: it's in order to read some stressful current events story or fighty Metafilter thread, or to check my email slightly faster than I would otherwise, or something similarly pointless. Now that I have a toddler, this goes double. Small children add so much stress to a life, but I've found that most of the little moments that counter that stress are little moments that wouldn't happen if I was carrying a smartphone constantly.

Of course, everyone is different; I'm not saying this should be true of anyone besides me. But it is my experience.

The downside of not having a phone, I suppose, is that I don't usually catch online things as they happen. Like this thread. But still, I'd rather be the last person to write here -- even if nobody reads it or cares -- than to have been more timely but have missed all those small moments.
posted by forza at 11:47 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


to me it felt like a lot of grumpy, patronizing bullshit.

Do you get the impression that Louis CK isn't on his phone constantly? My impression is that he is, and he is primarily describing his own use of the phone to escape his own sadness, and that the fact that he stopped and let the sadness hit him instead of indulging in the shallow distraction of his smart phone was an exception to his normal behavior. I don't think at all that he thinks that people without smartphones are better people, only pointing out that spending some time being 'bored' can have value.
posted by empath at 8:07 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I keep trying to waste my time on my phones on commutes but invariably I'll be seated next to someone interesting on the bus and we get to talking. How in the hell am I supposed to get through my backlog of podcasts?
posted by Deathalicious at 7:20 PM on September 24, 2013


I hear you, Greg_Ace. There's way too much insistence that kids sit quietly, at their desks, all day and work on the current assignment no matter how boring and pointless it is. I had a teacher in 6th grade who assigned me over 200 demerits in a single year for reading in class (when I already knew the material). I was sent to detention four or five times for reading (my own books) quietly after finishing the class assignment.

But what I'm talking about isn't bored kids doodling or passing notes, but (for instance) the class of kids that was challenged to be quiet for 10 seconds and could only manage 4, on the third attempt. I mean, after the first couple tries they were probably making noise to be funny, but believe me when I say there are real issues for teachers trying to teach by lecturing, or even just trying to give oral instructions for the lessons that are written on the board. That's why I said teachers as facilitators to lessons delivered via computer are the future.

(For the record, I don't think smartphones are specifically the cause of this but it really does seem to be the case that there are kids in school who attend better to screens than to people.)
posted by subdee at 10:42 PM on September 24, 2013


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