Jennifer Lawrence is wrong: Smartphones do not stop us from ‘living in the moment’

Phones in crowd
“You can’t live your whole life behind your phone, bro,” said Jennifer Lawrence to a reporter apparently captivated by his smartphone while asking a question at the Golden Globes. “You’ve got to live in the now.”

Her words have been taken literally by smartphone-haters, who believe Lawrence is the voice of reason in a desperate world of downward-staring automatons, all obsessed with their mobile devices.

The argument that phones are killing the moment is just another attempt by angry, irritated, busy-bodies to push their beliefs.

While there’s every chance the often sarcastic Lawrence was being, well, sarcastic; the perhaps misunderstood message has continued to spread — We should be living in the moment, not bending to the will of our iPhones. Lawrence isn’t the first to chide us for over-using smartphones, either. Over the past few weeks, the same recommendation has been made by several others, including a man of the cloth and another celebrity. Is this proof-positive the world is finally, sensibly seeing the light?

Of course not. Not only is the advice scientifically impossible for humans to follow due to the way our brains function, but it’s also being used in entirely the wrong way. Don’t be fooled. The argument that smartphones are killing the moment is just another attempt by angry, irritated, busy-bodies at pushing their own beliefs about technology and society. They’re guilt-tripping us into putting down our phones — and here’s why you shouldn’t pay any attention.

Be in the now!

If you’ve been wavering recently, concerned that you’re not “in the now,” it’s not a surprise. The message has been pushed hard over the past few weeks. Before Jennifer Lawrence, there was U.K. Bishop Nick Baines, who shared a heart-warming Christmas message with the world on Dec. 24.

“Here’s a thought,” Baines said, “put down your mobile, switch off your tablet, and live in the moment. You may be surprised by what you can do.”

Then came Eddie Redmayne, Oscar winner and star of The Danish Girl, who bravely came out and said he’d gone back to “an old fashioned handset in place of a smartphone,” which was “a reaction against being glued permanently to my iPhone during waking hours. The deluge of emails was constant and I found myself trying to keep up in real time, at the expense of living in the moment.”

The world loved his sacrificial stand. What a guy. One Telegraph journalist was so taken with Redmayne’s grand gesture, he copied it, and likens the wonder of going back to a Nokia feature phone to “that feeling when you leave a city and go to the country.” Tech startup CEO Steve Hilton has been in the news for not having a phone of any kind for three years — a trailblazer in moment-living — and now considers the idea of always being contactable “menacing.”

this is my new favorite photo of all time

— Wayne Dahlberg (@waynedahlberg) September 26, 2015

They’re not the first to link the smartphone with people not paying attention to the world. Check out the picture in the tweet above from mid-2015, where a woman at the front is singled out as the only one truly enjoying the moment because she doesn’t have a smartphone held high. Those horrible “attention-sponges” are stopping us from reveling in the staggeringly wonderful things happening around us, they argue. Why? So we can quickly tweet about what we ate a few hours ago, or be a slave to our jobs.

Give me a break.

Inspirational? Not so fast

That’s a lot of rich and influential people giving up phones and supposedly treating life like it’s worth living. Should we look to them for inspiration on how to turn our pathetic, mobile-loving lives around? No.

Eddie Redmayne, who said he “felt far more alive” without a smartphone in his hand, managed to go for all of a week without one. His cop-out was that he was cultivating a “healthier relationship with it.” Oh, and his wife got sick of him spending all his time on a laptop instead.

It turns out, for you to be in the moment at all, you must let others get on with their own lives.

Bishop Nick Baines is even worse. He turned out to be extolling the virtues of watching television instead, mainly because he’s on the board of a trust dedicated to promoting religious broadcasting. Going from a small screen to a bigger one is acceptable, according to the Bish. Steve Hilton hates phones so much he cried during a conversation about getting one again, but at least he says he has no wish to convert anyone over to his way of thinking.

If these pillars of restraint can’t end up resisting the pull of a smartphone, what chance do the rest of us have? None, actually, and it’s OK.

Science is on our side

The brain is wired in such a way that it simply isn’t capable of living in the moment, according to this study, making “the moment” more like a fiction made up by people who wear loin cloths and sit cross-legged on the floor even when a perfectly good chair is nearby. Our brain, it says, will continually assess past experience to shape our future. In other words, we’re looking back to know what to do next, without a care for the now. It doesn’t matter how much we may want to, mentally it’s impossible to really live in the moment.

What’s more, when researcher Matt Killingsworth looked into how our happiness is affected by letting our minds wander, he found we’re a lot happier when we’re focused on something. Not just the elusive “moment” but anything, including a killer morning commute. He advocates “engaging in the present” without linking it to any activity in particular; staring at a phone is equally as in the moment as watching a balloon rise into a cloudless sky, or whatever phone-less people like to do. He even used an iPhone app to gather his research.

So, what can be done, if you feel disconnected? The phrase “living in the moment” describes mindfulness, and the concept has been around for years. Mindfulness, says this article, can be achieved simply by paying attention to your immediate experience.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Ph.d-educated expert in all mindful matters, defines it perfectly: “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” That’s right, when someone gets all sweaty about you not grasping the moment in the way they think is right, ironically they’re also completely ruining it for themselves. It turns out, for you to be in the moment at all, you must let others get on with their own lives, digitally or otherwise.

Next time someone sneeringly berates you for taking a few pictures with your phone, remind them of that.

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