Smart phones are toxic, so his kids don’t need them, and neither do yours, Louis C.K. told Conan on Late Night With Conan O’Brien this week.
Louis says that the distance cell phones create between hurtful words kids might say to their peers and the effects of these words, makes it easier for kids to continue negative behavior than if they had to interact face-to-face.
I think these [phones] are toxic, especially for kids…It’s bad…They don’t look at people when they talk to them, and they don’t build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s ’cause they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, ‘You’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘Oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they gotta start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘You’re fat,’ [on a smart phone] then they just go, ‘Mmm, that was fun, I like that.’
Besides being bad for kids, Louis says that our focus on our phones reflects a growing inability for humans who stare at screens a lot to be present in the moment, to cope with moments of quiet or idle time, and the possibility of, well, feeling feelings.
You need to build the ability to be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones have taken away…And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘Oh no, here [the feeling] comes. That I’m alone.’ It starts to visit on you, just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it. That’s why we text and drive. I look around, and pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars, but people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.
I am thrilled that Louis C.K. is back to talking about technology and its impact on us as individuals and as a collective. I teach college students, and talking about the positive and negative effects of technology both in and outside of the classroom is a priority for me. This is both because I care about it, and because I see how much it affects every aspect of their lives — from how they learn (or don’t), to how they conduct their social lives like no generation ever has before.
Every semester, I break out the “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy” video from Louis’s 2008 rant on Conan’s show, about technology dependence and impatience, specifically among younger people. I downplay the generational message of “we’re so spoiled and entitled to data any time, any place,” when I talk to my students about it, because I don’t think it’s so much an age-related thing anymore as it is a societal condition. I get just as irritated as any 18-year-old I know when I can’t access a wireless signal, or if a very extremely important (usually only to me) text message won’t immediately go through — and that age is far, far back in my rear view. (And slamming them as a group? It’s just no way to connect with a room of teenagers, anyway. Trust me on that one.)
We talk instead about how we’re all prone to technology dependence, and how everything is pretty amazing, when you think about it even a little bit, which we often don’t stop to do. I share how I frequently remind myself aloud, when my tech doesn’t work or it moves more slowly than I’d like, to be patient — that, as Louis C.K. says in that original clip, the signal is, literally, “GOING TO SPACE” to transmit my message, and maybe I should chill out.
I’d like to say this reminder to myself always works, but that would be a lie. Everything IS amazing, and while I don’t know that nobody’s happy, I do know that when my phone is taking a little longer getting to space than I think it should, I’m really not pleased at all, so there’s something to be said for limiting that dependence.
As far as whether or not kids should have smartphones, that’s a loaded topic for many people, for reasons that Louis C.K. indicates and more, from cost to safety to sheer responsibility. He’s made me think about the empathy that can disappear with the degree of separation that a phone or a computer can provide, and about my own ability to sit in a situation without fiddling with my phone, whether it’s to check Facebook or to take a picture or to text, depending on whatever my whims are at the moment. I’ve been thinking tonight about whether his words are true for me, a heavy smartphone user. What am I without my little red number of notifications, or likes, or stars, or immediate access to whatever minutiae I want to know at any given second?
The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone…You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die. So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.
I really hope not. I hope I’m in touch with my feelings, and how amazing everything is, and how it’s important to be empathetic and connected to people, not just through a screen. And if I lose sight of that, ever, I hope I get back on track quickly. I hope that’s true for any kids with smart phones, and for grownups, too.