Friday Notes #31 — Addicted to our screens

A worrisome trend gets worse by the day.

Consider the following image of Flemish government members during a meeting. Each meeting is streamed over to this YouTube channel. The YouTube stream has been analyzed using AI to determine what people are doing during these meetings (read more about this project here). The results tell what we can already observe in general in society: they spend the majority of their time on their phones.

What are they doing on their phone? Are they searching for important notes? Are they taking notes? Are they exchanging remarks between each other about the ongoing meeting? 

This brings me to this question: what is going on these days with every one of us? Can we all be there, together, not somewhere else in cyberspace? How many times do I see this type of behaviour during meetings at work? Way too often… all the time, actually. The pandemic made the matter worse as we spent more time in videoconference meetings, but the trend started way before that. Look around you, at the store, at the restaurant, in the park, at school, in the waiting room, at work, on the bike lane, in the police car, at the security desk, at the kindergarten, on the bike, everywhere… we are constantly staring at our screens. What the fuck is going on with us, humans? I find this troubling and disturbing trend. I expect this to get even worse when Apple and other companies start to release their AR glasses.

One could argue: if the meetings were useful, maybe we wouldn’t try to escape them. Maybe, but since this behaviour is pervasive in so many social interaction contexts, it is a more profound problem than a useless meeting.