Saturday, April 23, 2016

Color Me Cured

Incident in a restaurant:

I was having dinner with friends the other evening when a woman and her two daughters sat down at an adjoining table. I’m making an assumption about their relationship but since they shared the same facial features, I feel like I’m on solid ground here.

After a few minutes, I glanced at them. All were laser-focused on their cell phones, the light from which illuminated upward onto their faces like a scene from a Stanley Kubrick movie.

Aside from ordering dinner, not a word was exchanged between them. They continued to be visually engaged with their phones even as they ate.

It’s not an uncommon sight.  In fact, there’s a word for it:  Nomophobia.

It’s the fear of being without your mobile devices, which believe it or not is now recognized as a serious enough affliction to warrant checking into a rehab facility.

So this is what we’ve become, I thought. We are well on our way to evolving into a bowed neck species without vocal chords or the ability to see beyond the palms of our hands.

We will worship at the feet of idols called Apple, Android and Samsung.

Our greatest joy will not be interacting with others but in sharing cat pictures.

We will be social media zombies.

What can we do to avoid this fate?

I read that at some point in the near future we will be able to implant computer chips in our heads with all the cell phone bells and whistles.  This would eliminate the annoying and time-consuming task of having to actually look at the device. We can just close our eyes and watch You Tube.

Sound far-fetched? Chip maker Intel predicts practical computer-brain interfaces by 2020.

Of course, the implications of this, such has having your brain hacked, raise more than few red flags.

But let’s face it: For most of us, myself included, cell phones are boredom busters. Any time we have to stop and wait, we reach for our phones.

Several recent reports suggested we unlock our phones anywhere between 110 and 150 times every single day. That's a lot of checking, often done without any deliberate thought or goal.

Call it electronic day dreaming.

We need a substitute activity. Simply tossing your phone in the L.A. River or putting it on permanent airplane mode seems harsh.  After all, you may need your phone to actually make a call someday.

Many years ago, I quit smoking by chewing on a toothpick instead of lighting up a cigarette. It took a week or so but it worked.

So with that in mind I set out to find something to wean me off of a cellphone for at least a few hours a day. And I found it in a most unusual product.

Adult coloring books.

First off, let me clarify that when I say “adult,” we’re not talking about Playboy centerfolds.  We mean the old-fashioned definition: fully grown and reasonably mature.

And before you laugh it off, check this out from the New York Times:

“Kara Lacey, 33, does it after a long day of work, sometimes accompanied by a glass of wine. “It’s super-relaxing, fun and nostalgic,” said Ms. Lacey, a publicist who lives in Hoboken, N.J.

“Alex Bender, 29, a real estate executive in SoHo, did it during a recent jaunt to Montauk, N.Y. “It’s nice to concentrate on something that’s lighthearted, fun and simple, which I don’t often get to do,” he said.

“Nikki Marsh, 35, a stay-at-home mother in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., does it with fellow moms when they need to relax. “It’s a special time when we’re not allowed to talk about school or kids,” Ms. Marsh said.

“It’s coloring books for adults, which have been gaining traction, booksellers say. Enthusiasts claim that coloring is therapeutic, fosters creativity and reaps benefits associated with meditation.”

Which is more than you can say for a phone.

The New York Times is loathe to fill its hallowed pages with breaking trend news. It took them 10 years to mention the Hula Hoop. So this article is something of a milestone.

The phenomenon has even attracted the attention of Crayola. The famous crayon maker has recently launched a set of markers, colored pencils and a collection of adult coloring books, Coloring Escapes.

The books are available from all the usual suspects: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target, Walmart.

Subjects range from intricate patterns and designs to sea creatures to “the art of nature” to “color your own famous American paintings” to something called the “I Love America” coloring book.

Nielsen Bookscan estimates that some 12 million adult coloring books were sold in 2015, a dramatic jump from the 1 million sold the previous year.

It’s not for everyone. Robert Pela, a writer who also curates a contemporary art gallery in Phoenix, Ariz., is among that group.

“I’m a snob. But I’m also an adult, one who remembers when adults relaxed with bourbon, not Crayolas and an outline of My Little Pony,” he told one publication. 

I tried it.  I liked it.  It is as therapeutic as advertised. Most important, I didn’t reach for my phone once.

But if you’re going to try it,  just remember two things:

Don’t share your creations on Facebook or Snapchat. If you do, you’re missing the whole point of the exercise.

And stay within the lines.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

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