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What a smart phone can't find: happiness

I watched a basketball game with one of our sons the other night. Every time I made a comment or asked an off-handed question he went to his iPad to summon statistics or video clips. We didn’t experience the game together in real time; we processed it search by search.

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I was watching a basketball game the other night with Jonah, one of our sons. I asked him how the two teams were doing this year. I expected his best guess. Instead he summoned the standings on his iPad to show me. A minute later Los Angeles Clippers’ power forward Blake Griffin scored on a monster dunk. I said it was the best dunk I’d ever seen. Jonah immediately called up a video of a previous Griffin dunk that was even better.

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Every time I made a comment or asked an off-handed question, Jonah went to the iPad. I’m not sure he saw more than two minutes of the game. We didn’t experience the game together in real time; we processed it search question by search question, each one being an opportunity to leave the moment.

It’s even getting difficult to live fully in fictional moments. One of the great joys of reading a short story is that you willingly suspend your disbelief and in return are transported to another time and place. But if you’re reading on a tablet or e-reader, you are prompted by links to search out the meaning of a word or find related biographical detail. You might even be encouraged to engage in a real time conversation with other readers of the same book.

Edgar Allen Poe championed the short story as a literary form superior to the novel because you could read it at one sitting and not have the flow of the story interrupted by the distractions of life. Well, he certainly wouldn’t want to be published online today. I may not be as fussy as Edgar, but I’d like you to read this piece from start to finish and not click on all those links and related content in between paragraphs. I’d like you to follow my argument in an uninterrupted straight line. But that’s getting more and more difficult.

Technology is changing the very nature of experience. It’s no longer linear. We don’t move from one moment to the next anymore. We live in several moments simultaneously. Our computers screens allow us to keep multiple windows open at once. Everything we do is instantly shareable, and everything we desire is searchable.

But the one thing you can’t search for on even the smartest phone is happiness. For that you have to stop searching and simply be.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.


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