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EDITORIAL: Pavlov’s smartphone

Cellphone service was down across much of Atlantic Canada on Friday.
Maybe turn on the porch light to welcome guests — but turn off your phones. Just for one day. - File image

For many, the first of December marked the beginning of the holiday season. Some people have their shopping in hand, others are thinking about starting, and many got their Christmas lights up on the weekend.

From airport shuttles to hotel lobbies to shopping malls, the Christmas carol playlist is already in full swing, and for some, the countdown to how many times you can hear “The Little Drummer Boy” before you go full parump-a-pum-pum is well underway.

It’s a hectic time: bedeviled by great expectations, limited time and plenty to get done, many are girding for the three busiest weeks of the year — followed almost immediately by the inevitable post-holiday letdown.

But it’s also the perfect time for a little test, and one that might startle you.

If you’re in a line at the mall, arms full of potential purchases, find a way to reach your cellphone. Take it out, hold it obviously in front of you (you don’t even have to turn it on), and look at the people around you.

As people glance over to see you holding your phone, you’ll see them take theirs out, too. The little blue glowing masters of our lives will have their due, even if there are no new messages, no tweets or emails or Instagram messages to be found. Tell people on an airplane that they have to turn off their phones, and everyone will take one last look through their messages. When we can turn our phones back on, almost everyone does, the aircraft pinging and ringing with incoming text messages.

We’re conditioned, and not in a good way. We’re eroding our ability to concentrate on anything but the shortest of communications. We’ve created a monster of constant contact. We need to know, right away, about absolutely anything that might have happened.

The thing is, your cellphone addiction is just one thing that will ramp up the stress of the holiday season. The effort of juggling all sorts of demands will not be improved by permanent attachment to the unblinking eye of instant messaging.

So maybe you could try another experiment. Instead of letting your phone wind you up, try putting it down. It’s not easy — anyone who spends time with a smart phone knows that you get an almost visceral urge to check the darned thing, as if its contents are so important that something like the meaning of life might be hiding in there.

And maybe, when we actually reach the real Christmas season, you’ll be able to find the strength to send a few Christmas messages, and put the thing aside altogether.

Maybe turn on the porch light to welcome guests — but turn off your phones. Just for one day.

You might even find you like it.

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