The infrastructure for living without a smartphone in the West is slowly disappearing. Thanks to societal changes made during the pandemic-induced lockdowns of 2020, many temporary adjustments — QR code menus, digital boarding passes — have become permanent.
Nowadays it’s rare to go to a restaurant without grabbing your phone for access to a menu or for ordering takeout. Some concert venues actually require guests to show their tickets from their mobile devices. In my Washington, D.C. apartment building, tenants open door locks via Bluetooth technology through their phones. To travel internationally — especially during the height of Covid-19 travel restrictions — many were required to provide health attestation forms via QR code. But QR codes require a smartphone to download.
“I’m suddenly surrounded by QR codes. There are now Airbnb doors I can’t open, cars I can’t start, menus I can’t read. Paper menus have vanished; ordering food has become an ordeal,” Jen Wasserstein, an immigration lawyer in Spain, writes for The Guardian. Her column describes the shame she endures as an iPhone-less individual for simply asking for directions or boarding a flight. She uses a flip phone to make important calls.
And yet, Wasserstein is choosing to live how most Americans lived just more than 10 years ago. Have iPhones clouded our memories so much that we can’t remember a time without them?
In addition to barring those without a smartphone from participating in society, requiring a phone for necessary, everyday tasks encourages phone addiction. At a time when Americans already check their phones an average of 96 times a day — every 15 minutes — with teenagers spending an average of nine hours a day on their phones, this is a recipe for disaster.
Smartphone addiction is at an all-time high, thanks to the Covid-19 lockdowns, potentially leading to various mental health disorders and antisocial behaviors. With such serious risks associated with heavy smartphone use, why are we making them indispensable for everyday living?
Most Americans are aware at some level that they are addicted to their phones. Various first-person exposés on wrestling with iPhone addiction appear in corporate media outlets from time to time. I expect that most of these journalists have gone back to phone-slavery, especially after pandemic lockdowns forced people to substitute technology for in-person interaction.
But all hope is not lost. A recent New York Times article documents the formation of a Luddite club by a group of Gen Z high schoolers in Brooklyn. These beatnik teens have traded their smartphones for flip phones, swearing off social media altogether. They’ve seen the harmful effects smartphone use has had on their peers and they want out. They want to experience life untethered.
If only we could convince more Westerners to form Luddite clubs of their own, solely for their own good. Life satisfaction would undoubtedly increase. But for now, those wary of an institutional push to make living without a smartphone virtually impossible should band together and advocate for the right to exist without one.