Good Bye, Phone Hello World: 60 Ways to Disconnect from Tech and Reconnect to Joy by Paul Greenberg was the last book I read in 2020 and the first one that I am reviewing in 2021. In my opinion it is an important and an urgently needed book. That is the reason that I decided to start the book reviews this year with this book.
Good Bye Phone is about how we are losing out on our lives, our own interests, in small small bits and pieces, for the sake of something which is not even worth it. The focus of the whole book is to convey the urgency to get rid of smartphone addiction. In the first few pages of the book, the writer highlights the various ways in which smartphone is robbing you of your life. And remember that he is not just talking about the effect on your health or effect on your relationships. He tells you how seriously it is affecting your whole life and how you are being deprived of the various beautiful things which really mean to you.
In very few but strong words the writer urges the reader to live the moment instead of committing it to memory. You might have noticed how people attend the annual day functions and other programs in their children’s school, and whole time are either occupied taking pictures or making videos. But note that that picture or that video is not your child; it does not feel, it does not smell, it doesn’t have life. It is just a screen, a picture. Of course, you could call it a memory aid to relive the moment later. But at the expense of not living it altogether in this very moment when the activity is still in progress? This way you would be left only with images and memories and would have lost all the wonderful experiences which this life offered you.
In another passage he brings to light the wonder of handwritten letters. Some 10 years back, I read an article in a scientific journal that a mother’s voice has nearly the same effect on a child as her physical presence. Some time back, there was another study which told that the effect of mother’s handwriting also has a similar effect. You yourself can compare the impression that a handwritten letter and an electronic text message casts on you. This is not just about psychology. In the WhatsApp era, you do not have anything to treasure, to keep in your treasure box, to relook at it when your beloved is no longer with you. Remember that the text messages — whether SMS or WhatsApp or Messenger, eventually disappear in the bottomless, endless tunnel of your phone screen. Afterall, how long and how far can you scroll? And those one line, one word messages certainly do not evoke emotions or feelings like an elaborate letter written in heartfelt prose. And certainly not the emojis and emoticons. You may say that they make a conversation more lively, but I consider that they kill any conversation. I interpret it as the other person does not want to talk further.
Once you have got rid of your addiction and put your phone away, you will have a lot of free time at your disposal. In the remainder of the book writer Greenberg tells you several ways to utilise that newly found time in a better and fruitful manner. In total Greenberg gives 60 suggestions — from learning a new language, learning to play guitar, spending time with your family, making more successful and more meaningful relationships, reading books, writing diaries, and so on up to crossing the sea or globetrotting. Interestingly, whatever suggestions he gives are very simple and written in the form of short notes.
Among the 60 suggestions there is one which says — do nothing! Sit idle. You would agree that we are not spending time with ourselves. Tell me, when was the last time you saw the night sky with its stars or the rising sun, or listened to the singing of birds? Whenever you get couple of minutes of spare time, you just pick up your smartphone and start scrolling through your WhatsApp messages or various notifications.
I will call this book completely successful only if the readers get rid of this addiction. They may continue to use their smartphones or mobile phones but keep it in moderation, use it when it is really required and not turn it into an addiction or obsession. The whole natural world is waiting for you — not just the beauty, not just the joy of it which the writer has noted, but also the various problems which the world is waiting for you to attend to, which you have to solve, which you have to pay attention to.
I have few suggestions for this book. Throughout the book the writer has focused on the harm smartphones cause to you — the user — and thus he gives suggestions on how you can avoid it to make life easier and more beautiful for you — the user. Except a few hints here and there, he seems to neglect the harm smartphone causes to others. It need not be so extreme like traffic accident; instead it could be in the form of a small interruption or inconvenience. It might be trivial, yet impolite, rude nevertheless. Imagine the following scene: I am working in lab or may be I am with someone, my phone rings. I cut the call, it comes again. Such persistent calls when the other person is not picking up is not what Swami Vivekananda meant when he said “…wait not till the goal is reached”! Your addiction to phone causes misery, embarrassment and annoyance to others. Nearly everyday we come across such addicts. We cut the phone call, or just miss the call, or perhaps the phone was on silent mode. When we return the call, we are welcomed by abuses on why we didn’t attend the call! It could be your spouse, your boss or anybody. And in shared office spaces — here I am talking about scientific academic laboratory — one phone call or WhatsApp message causes disturbance to everybody.
Another issue which the writer has missed is the harm smartphone has caused to our communication skills. Grammatical errors are acceptable in the WhatsApp world and soon the people who write perfectly polished, error free languages — like the writer himself — would be considered endangered species. Personally, I consider language to be the greatest invention in human history, which made sure that we do not have to reinvent everything from scratch, and also kept knowledge from getting lost while transmission by word of mouth. In our own lifetime, we had spent long hours, several years, hard labour in gaining the vocabulary, grasping grammar of the language which is not our native language. And how easily within a few days of using WhatsApp we choose to wipe off all that we had learnt. All the harms that the writer has mentioned are correct and demand urgent attention, but the very first and perhaps the greatest harm is inflicted on written language. And the damage is irreversible. Interestingly the suggestions are straightforward and have already been given by the writer in the book — restrict phone usage, don’t text when you can call, and carry a book in your bag.
Buy this book by all means, preferably multiple copies. Read it yourself, give others to read, and also give it away as gift. Keep it on your drawing room table so that your guests can leaf through it. I am sure you would not need to read the whole book — just within first few pages, the writer would have convinced you of the harm your smartphone is causing you. And that conviction immediately leads to action. Yes, the action which is not just the need of the hour, but also extremely urgent — urgency to put down your phone, and go back to live the wonder that life is.
Title: Good Bye, Phone Hello World: 60 Ways to Disconnect from Tech and Reconnect to Joy
Author: Paul Greenberg
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Price (Kindle): $17.95
What does it mean?