Have you seen all those internet memes lately about how smartphones are ruining our lives? How they alienate us from each other? Have you seen the one with recent arrivals in Heaven, staring at their empty hands – addicted to their phones on Earth, apparently, and not being able to carry them over to the afterlife?
Or the one with the people with tan lines on their bellies – where they are holding up their smartphones while sunbathing? Or have you been simply mocked by a stranger on the train, as I have been, for holding your smartphone in your hands?
Yes, it is true: many of us are glued to our phones. When I am riding the metro to work, I have my phone in my hand, and if I look up I can see that half of the people do so, too. But I do not see stupid smartphone addicts whose lives are empty.
I see moms who are eagerly awaiting texts from their kids that they are safely home from school. I see busy employees who try to clear a bit of their email backlog during their commute. I see teenage boys messaging their first crush. I see a man going through a painful phase in his life and getting some relief by mindlessly pushing tiles in the game 2048. I see a woman going through a divorce and receiving support and love from her friends in another continent through texting apps.
I see a college freshman from the countryside who uses an online map to figure out her way in the big city that is still new to her. I see a woman sending pictures of her baby to her husband on an overseas business trip. I see a sick girl trying to find the nearest pharmacy to get a painkiller. I see a girl who moved away from home and whose only way to cheer up her depressed mother is to Sykpe call her and send her stupid selfies of herself during the day.
Technology and smartphones do not separate us from each other; they connect us. When thousands of refugees were crossing Hungary each day, professors and students of Central European University were providing wifi and a phone charging station to them at Keleti Station in Budapest. I helped out there one day, and I can safely say that these tired and worn-out people were just as happy about the wifi and the chargers as they were about food and clothes.
Because it meant that they could tell their loved ones back home that they were safe, and they could also check in with those waiting for them somewhere in Western Europe. They were no longer isolated. They were no longer alone.