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Our Desk: Unplug and get bored

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image Grace Yu

Do you see people waiting in public venues, canteens, bus stations or even dining alone or sitting on the bus, looking down at their smartphones in their hands? Do you find yourself constantly checking your phone for no real reason? Do you reach for your cellphone right after waking up in the morning and before you go to sleep?
These are some of the common symptoms of a smartphone addict. A medical statement said they had found evidence to indicate that it can cause dysfunction.  
In response to the growing smartphone addiction among young people, the annual Book Carnival in Macau calls for people to start ‘unplugging’ their smartphones and ‘enjoy reading.’
Although there are not many new elements for the upcoming Book Carnival, the appeal they put forth this year did aim to get people’s attention about the rising trend of smartphone addiction – not only in Macau, but other countries and regions such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
On a recent weekend I was in a reading club organized by a few book-lovers (or wannabe book-lovers). Ten people gathered in a coffee shop at night to recommend a book to others, and exchanged that book with one of the other participants. They also discussed specific topics pre-set by the organizer. During the discussion I still found a few of them picked up their smartphones from time to time, to check messages or to refresh the screen. It was not until that moment did I realized how awkward the dependence on smartphones looks in an atmosphere where everyone is supposed to communicate face to face.      
This also reminds me of an interviewee I talked to last week. An educator of children who specializes in designing and presenting drama and other performances, she is also a mother of six kids. Something she insists on is allowing children to create something. “When kids are at home, I turn off the television, iPad and so on. They complain that they feel bored. So I say ‘Then get bored’. (…) You need to have free time if you want to create something,” she told me.
Perhaps this is a good example for parents to reflect upon how they spoil their children by drowning their kids in various kinds of electronic toys, perhaps as a compensation for being too busy with their work and not being able to be in their children’s company.    
As Nicholas Carr hints in his 2010 book “The Shallows”:
“The smartphone, more than any other gadget, steals from us the opportunity to maintain our attention, to engage in contemplation and reflection, or even to be alone with our thoughts.”
To give up using smartphones is definitely not a wise way to get rid of the addiction. But there is a game created for mealtime that could inspire us, or at least could leave a laugh. The game is called “Phone Stack”. Guests stack their phones facedown in the middle of the table during mealtime. The first person that flips their phone over is stuck paying the bill. The game was created to carry on in-person conversations with our friends.
Of course, the best way to curb this addiction would be learning to prioritize and manage time.

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