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Kyoto primatologist advocates a daily 'smartphone Ramadan' to keep priorities in perspective


"Put your smartphone aside, even if just for a little while, and go to town."

If you do, advises Juichi Yamagiwa, an authority on primatology and presently head of the Kyoto-based Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, you'll realize new knowledge and become more aware of your surroundings.

This advice is offered as a "special report" in Shukan Shincho (Jan 27) titled "Smartphone Ramadan."

As the article's lead-in puts it, "Humans have built up a relationship of mutual trust by engaging in such common activities as eating and moving about. But with our over-reliance on smartphones, we are losing that physical communication. Japan's leading gorilla researcher talks about his recommendation of a 'Ramadan,' during which we dare to turn off our phones."

One of the problems today's human beings face is how to live our lives in the limited time available to us. Out of 24 hours in each day, we must delegate a portion of that time to things that sustain our lives, and we can't cut back on activities such as sleeping and eating, and working to support ourselves. So depending on how we manage our daily schedules, only a small amount of time can be said to truly belong to us.

Yamagiwa worries that the time devoted to use of smartphones is eating away at this precious time.

True, smartphones have become virtual necessities that enable a person to quickly contact others. And their search applications can be tapped to help fill in the gaps of things we don't know.

But along with these conveniences, there are negative aspects as well. For instance, we can quickly and easily make contact with others; but this communication is partially symbolic, taking the form of text and pictures. And such tools, Yamagiwa believes, are insufficient for conveying one's feelings.

Haven't you ever thought, "I'm trying my utmost to convey my message, but why aren't they getting it?" The cause of this is that one can't convey one's true feelings only through words, or have one's subtle emotions understood.

This, says Yamagiwa, underscores the importance of non-verbal communications. When meeting face-to-face, he says, it's not just the words we speak that communicate: A discussion involves not only the present situation, but also incorporates aspects involving each individual's personality, their mutual relationship, and what has transpired between them in the past.

Text chat via a smartphone utility, on the other hand, is conveyed only via text, and since other shared matters such as those stated above are involved only superficially, if at all, the impact of the text tends to be overemphasized.

"The relationship between sender and receiver is dispensed with, and any such communication is unable to convey feelings," Yamagiwa explains.

He goes on to state his belief that three freedoms make up human society: Freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

As per the old saying that "two heads are better than one," the mere act of encountering others and conversing leads to knowledge. In order to exercise these three freedoms, you need time to exercise them proactively. I would like to see people set aside that precious time to exercise their humanistic freedoms.

"I myself own a smartphone," Yamagiwa admits. "I keep it in my briefcase and take it out when necessary, which I think is sufficient. I don't deny that it's become a daily necessity in people's lives. However, it is best not to get so swept up in one that you lose your own time or neglect physical communication in favor of messaging."

Yamagiwa's solution? Designating a certain number of hours in each day to refrain from looking at his smartphone, a period he refers to as "smartphone Ramadan." (And yes he is familiar with the Muslim practice of engaging in fasting and other activities during that month.)

His hours of "Ramadan," Yamagiwa feels, inspire him to leave his smartphone alone, while he practices the basic human "freedoms" on which he places greater importance.

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For instance, we can quickly and easily make contact with others; but this communication is partially symbolic, taking the form of text and pictures. And such tools, Yamagiwa believes, are insufficient for conveying one's feelings.

I couldn't disagree with this more. It definitely depends on the person but some people not only are adapt at conveying one's feelings via text, they are far better at it than doing so verbally. I don't think it is remotely fair to just wave it off as inferior to verbal communication; it is a different medium entirely. Heck, if you asked me if I had to choose between verbal communication and written, I would take the written word every time. This doesn't even take into account the world of opportunity technology has given those suffering from disabilities.

People really like to villainize smartphones, I always seem memes about how awful it is that everybody on trains is looking at their phone. Yet, prior to phones people just did the same things with books or newspapers (incidentally that is the content I am typically consuming on my phone on the train). It isn't like people sat down on a local train and started a conversation with their neighbor. If they did, I would find it extraordinarily uncomfortable.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

The key is to use the phone responsibly and in moderation. If you are riding the train alone, or in a waiting room, or dining by yourself, etc, there is nothing wrong with reading, messaging, playing, etc on the phone.

OTOH, if you are with with others, it's somewhat rude to bury your face in your phone instead of interacting. And, of course, if you are walking, bicycling, and especially driving, you should not be using it at all, except perhaps a quick glance at the navi app. But, that should go without saying. (Unfortunately, it doesn't for many people.)

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Nothing I hate more than when someone's looking at their smartphone while I'm trying to talk to them.

I agree, in-person communication is much richer and makes a much bigger and long-lasting impact.

Non-verbal communication and body language is a huge part of communication.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I agree that time apart from the phone is a good idea. Turn off the sound, put it in another room as it charges, rest the eyes from the phone's light, and especially don't look at the phone when speaking with others (I often see the latter with people using laptops to contact me via video calls).

However, I don't recommend leaving the phone behind to "go downtown." The sound can still be turned off and people can enjoy their surroundings which I believe is the intent here. But without a phone there is no way to deal with an emergency should one occur, make a record of something with a quick snap or find a resource that might be needed.

I learned this lesson--and it took only once. I meant to cross the street from my apartment to pick up an item in a shop and thought to leave the phone behind. However, my gut said take it. On my return, as I inserted my key, the lock jammed. With the phone I could contact a mobile locksmith who was there in 20 minutes to dismantle the broken lock and replace it. Easy peasy. No need to find a neighbour, borrow a phone, blah, blah blah. I never leave my home without my phone.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

considering we are in the middle of a pandemic with other forms of recreation being shut down, dont think this is the best time to be advocating this

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

It absolutely is the best time Aly as it's quite clear by reading some commenters here that people have driven themselves mental with it.

they did this to themselves. When we were under a REAL SOE the first time under Abe, I finally had time to work out and train more martial arts. I got a chance to do all things I didn't have time for before. If people are going mental in the pandemic due to lockdowns nothing will get them to stop with the smartphones.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There is responsible use of smartphones

Then there is using it as a device to exercise your distraction muscle.

I actually have my screen monochrome on my iPhone. It somehow makes it less physiologically appealing to pick it up every other minute when the slightest hints of boredom creep in.

With great power comes great responsibility my grandad once said...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In many other countries a comment like that would have the Muslims out on the street protesting about blasphemy and insulting Islam.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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