I like to play a game on the subway where I look around and try to find someone not on their phone. I like seeing a person reading a book, or, in an ultimate win, someone staring into space without headphones. It’s a rare find.
These check-ins remind me that we, as a society, rely on our phones to distract and entertain us. Yet still, even as a hyper-aware person, I can’t even force myself to get off my own iPhone while riding the train. I try, but always think of something I have to do immediately: reply to an email, respond to my friend’s text, double-check a date in my calendar, read an article, adjust my music. Apparently everyone has something to do, too. In the 10 years since the iPhone debuted, it’s slowly eaten our personal space. Few places exist without cell service or Wi-Fi. We’re connected in locations that once seemed far removed from the busyness of the world, like on subways, airplanes, and cruise ships. NASA even sent iPhones into space.
I groaned when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that all New York City subway stations would get Wi-Fi and cell connectivity this year. The subway once served as my retreat away from the phone. Nearly seven months after that service expansion, the system isn’t completely canvassed. I notice that people look up in between stations, where service remains spotty. Still, the MTA is actively trying to get those tiny unconnected chunks to disappear. Everywhere is slowly connecting.
After a decade of unstopped insurgence — the result of which left 34 percent of people finding it difficult to take a break from technology even when they know they should — tech companies and businesses are responding to the iPhone invasion. We’re reclaiming our space. And like all good stories, it starts at the clubs. Parties, like Mister Saturday Night, ban phones from the dance floor because its hosts want the dance floor to be “a place where everyone can be in the moment.” Permanent clubs, including Schimanski in Brooklyn, New York, sometimes put stickers over attendees’ phone cameras. Wall Street Journal columnist Joanna Stern attended a party where she was forced to put her phone in a bag until the end of the night. Mandatory disconnecting might be niche, but up until recently, it wasn’t something that needed to be addressed.