Thousands of people paid thousands of dollars each this week to be in the arena to watch LeBron James hit a fadeaway jumper to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the leading scorer in NBA history. And almost all of them watched the historic event through their phones. The pictures from Crypto.com Arena (cringe) reveal the sad truth: as a society, we experience much of life now staring at it through a phone as a downsized, detached, digitized imitation.
Look at the photo of Tuesday’s history-making shot. It’s remarkable. I can only spot one person in the entire arena who isn’t holding his phone in front of his own face, that being Nike owner Phil Knight. Now look at the faces. Detached. Somber. How many smiles do you see? Zero? Even Phil Knight looks sad and bored.
Compare that photo to this image of Michael Jordan against the Jazz in Salt Lake City in 1998. No phones in the crowd. Look at the faces. Joy. Surprise. Agony. Anticipation. Happiness. Horror. Look at the body language. The arms clutched to their chests in suspense. Hands against their faces in disbelief. These people are locked in to the moment. They’re living it large, in full color and sound, all of it. That crowd in that arena looks like somewhere I’d want to be. The LeBron crowd with the phones is the home crowd. They’re watching their guy. But look at their faces. I think I’d rather stay home.
Compare the crowds in the gallery following Tiger Woods in the late ’90s with those watching him tee off in the second photo from 2019.
Notice the difference in their faces. The group without phones is enjoying the event, experiencing the full scale of the moment with all their senses. The group with phones look like zombies. They’re watching the greatest golfer in the world at a championship event, but judging by the expressions on their faces, they could just as easily be watching paint dry or a washing machine on the spin cycle.
Five years ago, a photographer compared pictures he took at an amusement park in Shenzhen, China in 2010 to shots of the same scenes in the same park in 2017. The difference is stark. Again, look at the faces.
These are unhappy people who are unable to stop staring at their screens. The photographer called it the “zombification of the human spirit.” He made the point at the time that these people are at a theme park that’s designed to distract you, it’s built to grab your attention, it’s constructed to enchant you and thrill you, splash you and astonish you. If you can’t put your phone down for that, then you’re likely living every moment of your life with your screen in front of your face – on the bus, at your desk, with the family at dinner, on the toilet. You’re experiencing all of life through your phone and it’s making you a sad person. It’s rewiring your brain and changing your face.
Compare the smiling park visitors enjoying the sights and interacting with each other to the ones in the same place just seven years later with the glum faces all uniformly transfixed by their phones. Hypnotized. Enslaved.
Since 2010, we have seen sharp statistical rises in teen depression and suicide rates. We’ve seen significant declines in levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Every single study out there confirms that giving iPads and iPhones to kids makes them dumber, not smarter. Our digital technology is addicting us and isolating us. I’m reminded of the early Seinfeld episode in which Elaine encounters a pregnant woman who is smoking. Elaine says something to her like, “I don’t know how with all the science, with all the information we have about prenatal care, with everything we know about smoking cigarettes – how can you be smoking while you’re pregnant?”
I feel that way when I see people on their phones. Why are you on that thing all the time? We all know it’s rewiring your brain and changing your face! When people ask me how old a kid should be before they give him or her a phone, I always say they should give their kid a pack of cigarettes instead. It’ll do less damage to the kid and to our society.
Do yourself and the people around you a favor and leave your phone in the car. It’s a big, wonderful, beautiful world out there. If you’re staring at it through your phone, you’ll miss it.