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Zooey Deschanel Wants You to Put Down Your iPhone -- and Science Says She's Right


A musical group bans camera use at its shows, and that's a good thing.

Vincent Vega: Let me ask you something, when did you make this decision? When you were sitting there eating that muffin?

Jules Winnfield: Yeah, I was sitting here, eating my muffin and drinking my coffee and replaying the incident in my head, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.

-- Pulp Fiction

We all have moments in life when things suddenly become illuminated.

As part of my never-ending existential crisis that I hope is just part of the human condition, I tend to obsess on those times when my brain is shocked into some important realization.

And I still remember the night of January 18, 2011, when I was at Madison Square Garden with a lady friend watching a show by the best live performer in human history: Prince.

We were all the way up in the cheap seats, and in fact, if we were any further from the stage, I'd have been on the roof with the pigeons.

And yet for some reason, I was compelled to take photos with my smartphone at the time -- an HTC (TPE:2498) Droid Incredible, which took awfully junky pictures.

It was at that point that I had an important moment of clarity.

I realized that I was taking lousy pictures of an amazing concert and sharing them on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) instead of allowing myself to actually be immersed in the event.

And it ain't just me -- or the former me -- that's the problem.

Go to a show, any show -- and you'll see that it's smartphone mania as people obsess over documenting the heck out of every little thing. I'm still surprised it doesn't happen at the movies!

But there's hope on the horizon.

And her name is Zooey Deschanel.

Ms. Deschanel is not only a famous actress, but also one-half of the musical act She & Him, one of a growing number of groups that are turning against this generation's obsession with documenting every last thing.

At a Toronto show, this sign was posted:

Now it could be argued that this is somewhat harsh, and even a bit mean.

But I am officially on Team Zooey.

In the world of physics, there's an idea called the observer effect. It means that the act of observation changes that which is being observed.

We can look at that two ways.

Maybe a singer facing a sea of camera phones performs differently.

And maybe the camera phone user's experience of what they're observing is destroyed by the act of documentation.

When we're looking at an LCD screen with a digital representation of what's in front of us, the sheer sensory power of the actual thing in front of us is completely destroyed.

You just can't possibly be in the moment if you're focused on what the moment looks like in photo or video form.

German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg said this in outlining his Uncertainty Principle:

One can never know with perfect accuracy both of those two important factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles -- its position and its velocity. It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant

In other words -- um, actually, in the words of Wikipedia:

Any two variables that do not commute cannot be measured simultaneously -- the more precisely one is known, the less precisely the other can be known.

Well, I think that the more precisely you document something, the less likely you are to actually feel the magic of that something.

And even if you're using something as simple as an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, or God forbid, an iPad, you're already pushing the limits.

These devices don't have many controls, but you still have to decide to pick the thing up, turn on the camera, straighten the screen, and process and share it on Instagram. The process may only take 20 seconds, excluding the inevitable additional checks to read people's reactions to your post, but I think that's all it takes to distract yourself from a possibly great reality.

So just as we humans influence the direction and velocity of tiny particles simply by observing them, we diminish the greatness of our experiences by pushing aside the sheer feeling in the name of observation in the form of fastidiously documenting things in exchange for "points" on social networks.

It's just like racking up headshots in Call of Duty or coins in Super Mario Bros.

And this could be having a negative impact on society as a whole, as there are some indications that social media use can lead to depression and/or anxiety.

A study from The University of Texas found that "frequent Facebook interaction is associated with greater distress directly and indirectly via a two-step pathway that increases communication overload and reduces self-esteem."

Utah Valley University concluded that "those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives."

One theme that I had never thought of but which seems obvious now is that our social media profiles are essentially PR operations where we maybe have a little too much control over how the world sees us.

We are Photoshopping our lives.

The same way it's easy to feel fat and ugly after looking at a magazine cover, it's easy to feel miserable after observing everyone else's carefully curated awesomeness.

I realize that I'm being very gloomy and ignoring the many positives of social networks, some of which I actually adore (I'm looking at you Tumblr!), but we should also acknowledge the negatives.

Of course, if the modern world is all about "Likes," maybe I'm wrong and things really are perfect out there in Internet-land.

Twitter: @Minyanville

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