There are four people in my relationship.
Me, my boyfriend, his phone, and my phone.
We all live together under one roof, and sometimes even share a bed. We spend all of our time together – going for walks, working, eating dinner, even hitting the town for a cocktail or two. It’s busy, sharing our precious time between four people, but we’re just all too involved to ever break it off.
Or are we?
Welcome to 2016, the golden age of Screen Rage. We balance an uneasy truce between life and life online; simultaneously loving and hating the glowing rectangles that deliver us there.
Moreover, we all harbour a serious doubt that we could live a digital-free life - after all, who's there to hear a silent screen?
In an era where a tablet is something to be swiped, not swallowed; and a phone is used for, well, pretty much everything except calling people - we are consumed by the drug that is online. From iMessage chats to the endless scroll of social media feeds, our fingers give an indication to the shifting nature of our attention span: read, scroll. Tap. Read, scroll. Tap. Read, scroll. Tap. Repeat.
It is an addictive state of being, isn't it? Mindless and constant streams of information flooding through at an extraordinary rate.
We are indulged in every pervy curiosity imaginable - with little effort you can flick from a childhood friend's wedding pictures in Bali, to Rihanna's booty on a boat via Snapchat. You can Google a recipe in half the time it would take to find it in the cookbook, and order the ingredients in a fraction of the time you would spend at the checkout alone.
This tiny rectangle of plastic and glass has become as consuming and magical as a genie's bottle: in it hides our friends, our money, our knowledge, our camera, our work, and of course, our downtime.
Our phones and computers have swallowed our lives whole - and are refusing to spit us out.
Like many couples, Screen Rage is a very real cause of friction in my relationship.
"Could you put your phone down for one minute? Just one?" I whinge at the dinner table to my partner, his face lit with the pale blue light of his iPhone.
Sourly, he'll put down the phone down. We continue eating silently, with the only sound the scraping of knives and forks on the plate. Sound familiar?
Getting into bed, he'll playfully flick the phone out of my hands as I furiously type an essay to my friend via Facebook chat. "God, can you NOT? She's waiting for my reply!" The mood shifts as I snap, and I immediately feel guilty.
I recognise how toxic our connection to the online connection is becoming, but I don't know where to start in cutting it off. Is it just a utopian dream to imagine a house untangled from the iconic white umbilical cord? From waking me in the morning to serenading me to sleep at night, a life without my devices is...unimaginable.
In this weekend's Australian Magazine, Nikki Gemmell presented a rather interesting solution. Frustrated with her family's dependancy on their phones, tablets, and computers; she locks them away for the day in a safe. Yes, A SAFE.
"The safe exists purely for screens," writes Gemmell.
"Welcome to modern motherhood. The multiple screens inside are cracked and chipped, smeared and fingerprinted, and they change the entire dynamic of this house. I cannot bear them. What they do to my kids and many of the kids around us."
Ridding her family of devices has left the Gemmell household - surprise surprise - happier, more relaxed, and bursting with creativity. She's hardly reinventing the wheel with that revelation, but it is still startling to read. Devices make us unhappy. So why do we keep them?
On our last trip overseas, my boyfriend and I vowed to leave our phones on 'airplane mode' during the day (or until we got to WIFI). It meant that we could still snap photos, but remain untethered to the incessant chatter online. It was bliss: conversations were had, smiles were exchanged, dinner was enjoyed. We even struck up the odd conversation with strangers. Quelle horreur!
I love the way Gemmell describes the similar transformation in her household: "Bowed backs straightened, faces opened to the world, tables hosted talk."
Creativity and communication are not the only things stumped by handheld technology, however.
Our physical self is also changing. I hear phantom text alerts, and regularly struggle with cramps in my 'typing hand'. Poor posture and lack of focus are common side effects of the iPhone generation - I have have near-misses with oncoming traffic more than once thanks to a particularly enthralling moment on the screen. I actually turned to my boyfriend yesterday and asked, "Has that building always been there?"
It had been there for over a decade.
Do you ever get an uneasy feeling that our dependence on smart devices are making us, well, less smart? Well, they are. Neuroscientists have begun seriously researching how the human brain is starting to change in relation to the increased use of technology.
"Excessive tech usage, according to leading scientific publications, atrophies the frontal lobe, breaking down ties between different parts of the brain," writes Elaina Zachos in her article 'Technology is changing the Millennial brain.'
"Too much technology use also shrinks the outermost part of the brain, making it more difficult to process information....this can affect the way people interact."
The changes, according to Zachos, are tangible: an inability to regulate emotions, reduced memory, shortened attention span, and poor communication skills.
For millennials in particular, the filter between what is and is not appropriate has been shifted; with many putting this down to social interaction occurring, for the majority, online via platforms like Facebook.
But perhaps it is because we have no 'empty' time in our day, the time once used ruminate on issues, and resolve grievances.
As Zachos notes, in rather prolific fashion - “There’s not a lot of reason for us to be alone with our thoughts when you can have your phone with you 24 hours a day.”
The evolution of home office technology. (Post continues after video)
Just as issues lessen in intensity after a good night's sleep; our brains need time to recover from interaction to interaction. We need time to process, to solve, to forgive. Now? We are always 'on'.
Cue the Screen Rage. It is, at best, teething problems with the modern world of tech. At worst, severe frustration at the collapse of reliable and meaningful communication. We're all attempting to leap over the gaping chasm of Before The Internet and After The Internet, and not all of us are making it.
I reckon I could be the very definition of 'not making it' - my slow fall into the chasm (and from grace) including throwing my partner's phone at a wall, refusing to use an iPhone for several months in a self-imposed cone of silence, and losing the charger for my iPad...now preferring to use it as a toast plate.
Sometimes I wonder if I will end up like Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda, who spent 29 years in a Filipino jungle believing WW2 was still going. Instead of searching for food and potential enemies, I'll be wandering around in search of eye contact and dinner conversation free of LED lit faces.
So whether it's locking your screens in a safe, or refusing to tuck your iPhone into bed with you at night; I call all comrades to pick up arms and put down the device. Let us fight the good fight, folks.
The world might continue to spin further and further online, but we can still choose to slide and switch off.