Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The End of Reflection


Yesterday as I sat in our local Starbucks I realized that, in spite of the fact that it was relatively crowded, the place was very quiet. A few people were having an occasional conversation but for the most part almost every single person was engrossed in giving their full attention to their smartphones or other electronic devices.  

I remember an article I recently came across in the New York Times that talked about our growing preoccupation with our smartphones and how this might be an indication of what was referred to as “the end of reflection.”

The article offered some startling new evidence from several scientific studies documenting the extent to which we have become dependent on our electronic devices in everyday life:

Most of us use our smartphones way more than we think.
Most people turn to their devices approximately 85 times a day
which averages out to about 5 hours.
So if you are awake for 16 hours,
checking your phone 85 times means doing so about once every 11 minutes
(and this doesn’t account for internet use on a computer),
and 5 hours is over 30% of the day.
What might be the effect on ‘reflection’ with this kind of compulsive behavior?

Yesterday as I sat and watched the crowd in Starbucks, not only were people ignoring one an another, but no one was just patiently sitting, awake in the moment, perhaps thinking about an idea or letting a thought marinate in their minds; instead everyone was endlessly tweeting and texting and responding to all sorts of continuous beeps, buzzes and notifications coming from their phones and iPads: the end of reflection? 

The article in the Times suggested that as a culture the growing dependency on our electronic devices has brought us to the brink of loosing that part of the brain that allows us to contemplate and reflect:

We’ve adopted the ‘Google’ ideal of the mind.
If you have a question you should be able to answer it quickly,
questions are close-ended and well defined.
Lost in this conception is that there is also an open-ended way of thinking
where you’re not always trying to answer a question,
you’re trying to go where a thought leads you.
As a society we’re saying that this way of thinking
 isn’t as important any more.
It’s viewed as inefficient.

As I think about it, I rely on my phone an awful lot and it may well be that I turn to it 85 times a day. It’s probably a good idea to be more aware of this compulsion.

As I see it, this “Advent” season in the days before Christmas is a perfect time for unplugging a bit to simply ponder and reflect or just to sit in silence, patiently watching and waiting, mindful and awake in the moment.

Buddhist teacher and author Susan Murphy once observed:

Don’t miss anything
Everything counts
Everyone counts
Find out what it all means and do what it wants of you

I probably miss a lot by looking at my phone all day long.


  1. I never thought it adds up to 5 hours. The development of smartphones already made an irreversible change in the way we interact with each other. I catch myself looking at my phone and talking to others.

    1. We all do this--a good time to be aware of it

  2. So, can we please deduct the 5 minutes every day when I am reading your blog posts? Please?