“Stop staring at your phones”

All over China loudspeakers blast out public service announcements that, in Australia, would seem borderline patronizing. I heard on one train journey:

“Smoking is prohibited on this train”
“Take care of your children and keep them away from hot surfaces”
“Be careful putting liquids on the foldout table in front of you”

The most interesting, and also the most common announcement, roughly translates to “stop staring at your phones”. Like everywhere else in the world the Chinese people spend their time in restaurants, public transport or even walking around staring at their screen. Presumably, there’s been an increase of people walking in front of traffic, falling over on staircases or maybe the government has just decided they don’t want to rule over a population of disengaged scroll zombies. Whatever the case, the voice of authority behind the loudspeaker announcements is now telling the population to stop staring at their phones to avoid having accidents. This message is being blasted out everywhere – public parks, on the metro, at train stations. It’s not working. Everyone is still spending their lives lost in the world of Wechat or Taobao. The irony is that those most distracted by their phones are the least likely to pay any attention to the announcement telling them to do otherwise.

At least the intention is there from the government and the problem has been recognised. I think it’s a good start towards unraveling the highly disengaged world we’ve inadvertently found ourselves living in. I’m actively trying to cut down on screen time and go back to having greater awareness, and appreciation, of the present moment. Maybe even be bored from time to time. Despite my best intentions, it’s a real challenge to put down the phone. The occasional loudspeaker reminding me to do so doesn’t seem such a bad thing.

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