Weapons of mass distraction
ou are sitting at a table — sweating, distracted and more than a little edgy — in a slightly skungy downtown San Francisco lounge called Jones.
You are with a gaggle of people you’ve never met before. You are not here for the cocktails or the floor show or to listen to stand-up comedian hopefuls. You are here for the same reason the others are and none of you is laughing or bantering or looking very happy.
In fact you’re probably wringing your hands and looking at your shoes right now.
You are there because of one simple, ugly truth: you are an addict, a junkie and you are finally ready to acknowledge that you need help.
And when your turn comes to speak you hope you will have the courage to stand up and say in a clear, loud voice:
“Hi, everybody. My name is Art and I am a ... a...
Relax, buddy. Everybody at the club tonight is wallowing in exactly the same leaky boat.
They are here because, like you, they are addicted — wired, actually — and they’re finally ready to admit that their addiction is wrecking their lives.
That’s what this get-together is all about.
It’s billed as a Device-Free Drinks event. The idea is to teach people how to survive without a WMD in their pocket or purse.
That doesn’t stand for Weapon of Mass Destruction; it stands for Wireless Mobile Device.
These people are going to attempt to spend the next few hours separated from their IPhones, IPads, ITouches, BlackBerrys, Androids, smart phones or other digital leg iron of choice.
Sounds absurd but it’s real enough.
An estimated 13 million Brits suffer from ‘nomophobia’ — the fear of being separated from their mobile phone device.
It’s even worse on this side of the Atlantic. The average American mobile user is online 122 more hours per year than the average Brit.
That’s the best part of a week wasted staring at a little box in your hands.
A bad habit for sure — but an addiction?
Absolutely, according to the experts. A report in a recent issue of Newsweek magazine claims that overindulgence in cell phone use, not to mention texting, tweeting and web surfing, can quite literally rewire human brain circuits.
Brain scans of adults deemed nomophobic — which is to say people who use their devices more than 38 hours a week — display symptoms that are eerily similar to those found in the brains of cocaine addicts and hard-core alcoholics.
Those symptoms range from serious anxiety to clinical depression — even rage or acute psychosis.
This particular Device-Free Drinks get-together at the lounge has attracted about 250 digital junkies and they are offered a variety of diversionary pastimes to help wean them from their toys.
There’s a glass jar labelled Digital Detalks that’s full of strips of paper, each one bearing a slightly-off-the-wall conversational opener, such as “What’s the best sound effect you can make?” and “What does your grandmother smell like?”
The idea is to derail your digital brain and re-wire it to think outside the WMD box.
To help in the weaning process there are a half dozen twentieth century digital devices available.
Typewriters by Smith-Corona. The manual kind.
Does it work? One participant says if you can make it through the first 20 minutes without running back to reclaim your checked-in cell phone or IPad, then you’ve got a chance of reclaiming your life.
But really, it’s too early to tell.
Will there be more Digital Detox gatherings like this one in the lounge? You can count on it. Might even be one near you.
If and when it happens, you know how you’re going to find out about it, right?
Somebody’s bound to post it on Facebook.
Arthur Black is a regular columnist with The NEWS