On “Non-Places” and Being

Deleting my social media accounts was step-one in my effort to unplug from my smart phone and, subsequently, enjoy the present. My thought process has been greatly shaped by both Wendell Berry and Cal Newport, two men on opposite spectrums but who share a commonality on living a more simple life. Though Berry lives in the farming lands of Kentucky and Newport is a tenured professor in Washington, DC, the commonality between them is simple: live in the present.

And even that statement is oversimplifying them.

I was reminded of this change in my own life when I read an article from The Atlantic, “Every Place is the Same Now,” with the URL link stating “smartphone-has-ruined-space.” Adding to the French philosopher Marc Augé’s “non-place,” the article examines how the smartphone has transformed almost every place to a non-place, meaning one can order groceries while waiting for a recital to start if one so desires.

It should not come as a surprise to us how much smartphones have changed our world, our attention span, and civilization as a whole. Smartphones have also changed the home as well. Homes that once were meant to be a retreat from work now have the possibility of becoming another conference room, thanks in part to modern technology. Home can also simultaneously become three separate movie theaters with each family member watching something entirely different from another.

The problem, then, is that home is a place where everyone is and, at the same time, everyone is not.

It’s easy but disorienting, and it makes the home into a very strange space. Until the 20th century, one had to leave the house for almost anything: to work, to eat or shop, to entertain yourself, to see other people. For decades, a family might have a single radio, then a few radios and a single television set. The possibilities available outside the home were far greater than those within its walls. But now, it’s not merely possible to do almost anything from home—it’s also the easiest option. Our forebears’ problem has been inverted: Now home is a prison of convenience that we need special help to escape.

My advice? I’m borrowing several ideas from Newport, but only use the phone for its intended purpose; that is, limit it only to text messages, phone calls, podcasts/music, and maps. Do everything else from a computer, as it becomes a step that you may be unwilling to take since it is not the “path of least resistance.” Make it a habit, and live in the present. Simply be. Put away your phone, read a book, spend meaningful time with your family, drink some coffee, take a walk, etc.

Live a quiet life (1 Thess 4:11).

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