Gary Tetz

A smartphone app in development purports to use speech analysis to diagnose dementia. 

That’s fantastic news, but it ignores one of my fundamental beliefs: that smartphone use is dementia, on a global scale. 

The irony is that our phone addiction is making us crazy as a civilization and species, but in our demented state, we think the disease is the cure.  

For instance, the mindfulness practices that are supposed to help us get off our smartphones and be truly present in the moment are delivered by, you guessed it, apps on our smartphones. 

That’s why whenever I walk into a nursing home and see staff bustling around, something feels oddly amiss. It takes a second, but then I remember what’s different: No one is on their phones.

They aren’t staring at their thumbs, scrolling their feeds, or taking Boomerangs of toasting wine glasses. No one is cackling at a meme, tapping the perfect emoji or pursing their lips into Instagram face. They’re simply doing their jobs and actually making eye contact with real people. It’s a little weird — and blissful. 

It makes me think maybe I should become a CNA, med aide or any direct care worker where phones are mostly required to stay out of sight. I’d actually like to be frisked at the door and have it forcibly removed, but I haven’t found a long-term care setting yet with a policy quite that idyllically draconian. 

As with anything important in life, it takes Mr. Rogers to cut right to the core of the problem and offer a solution. “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex,” he was quoted in a recent documentary. 

Shallow and complex is the definition of our smartphone obsession. 

But whenever we can simply look up from our devices, we’ll notice, perhaps even deeply, that it really is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.