The Button

The Button

Written by: Natalie Yeo (Photo by: Ronald Lim)

It was not only my escape, but also my mask and shield. Is it yours too?

Picture this: You are seated at a table, sharing a meal with friends. All of a sudden, conversations trail off to silence, people start to fidget and you find yourself with nothing more to say or do. An awkward silence punctuates the air and you are now feeling quite uncomfortable.

And then, the button saves the day.

We all have at least one trusty button in our lives that we depend on, enabling us to retreat in any given situation. We are all guilty of using it — each and every one of us.

I’m referring to the ubiquitous button on your mobile/tablet device(s), the gateway to your “other” world — the virtual world — comprising social media, games, news, online shopping, movies, drama serials and more. If it isn’t that particular button, then it’s probably the one that switches either your television or laptop/computer on. Regardless, these are buttons we supposedly can no longer do without today.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Does it resonate in you?

I am guilty of it; I am writing this on an iPad Mini on my commute from home to work. This is my condition; the button was (too often) my escape. 

There were simply moments where I couldn’t help but feed the overwhelming need to feel occupied. I acted busy through replying text messages, reading tweets and scrolling through Instagram in search of my next photo to “like”. For some, it could be an automatic action (or reaction) that happens the moment you leave the comforts of your house. For others, it could be their escape from a difficult day or could very well be an intentional effort to shut out chatter and noise; sometimes even people.

For me, it was like grasping at straws, desperately trying to find something to hold in order to feel somewhat secure. It became a habit I got so comfortable with that I didn’t want to give it up.

In the moments where my social media newsfeeds and timelines have been expended and when I’ve run out of text messages to reply, I will casually fold my arms and watch the world pass by. I would make attempts to appreciate the beauty of our garden city between each MRT stop, observe couples holding hands and catching up with each other’s day or watch curious toddlers stand on seats and stare out in wonder.

Yet, such moments were brief. Within mere minutes of stopping and staring, I would be twitching and itching to touch the button, as if what I had before my eyes (people, nature, etc) weren’t satisfying enough. This was how I realised I had become consumed with escaping — I was no longer adequately comfortable or content with my present reality.

That wasn’t all.

Whenever I board a bus or a train, I would usually pause to survey my surroundings (I love people watching). In the time spent observing, I discovered I wasn’t alone as there were droves of people utterly absorbed in their virtual worlds. Many of them barely aware of their own surroundings (I’ve been poked in the head with mobile devices one too many times as the owners hadn’t noticed me).

A typical scene plays out to be something like this: You look around and all you see are people with mobile phones or tablet devices clasped in their hands, eyes fixated on flat screens, ears attuned to the sound of beats of music or banter in drama serials. After some time, it begins to seem like the same scene of a bad movie replaying again and again. This observation began to stir up something in my spirit, leaving me unsettled, heralding an epiphanic moment.

The button was also my shield.

My reliance on the button had unknowingly morphed into a kind of defense mechanism; a kind of pretense that I had put on. As an introvert, it naturally became a shield that protected me from having to interact with people, from awkward moments and judgemental stares of “having nothing to do while everyone else does”. Since I wasn’t the only culprit, no one could judge me for it and it soon become my valid excuse to withdraw into the virtual world.

While I recognise my need for this button to stay connected and up-to-date, I’ve come to realise that this shield needs to come down. I also need to start again; I want to begin investing in real-life relationships, make someone’s day with a smile or pay attention to details I haven’t noticed for some time.

My key resolution in 2014 is to loosen the reliance on my button. I believe this resolve shall mean being truly present at meals with family, colleagues and friends. I also hope to take some time in the year to intentionally go without my mobile and tablet just to hear what God is saying and what/who is on His heart.

In Ephesians 6:18, we are encouraged to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a Godly reminder to “rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for [me] in Christ Jesus.” The button may be a little thing but it stands imposingly in the way of living a life that reflects these verses.

If I am able to spend an inordinate amount of time incessantly pressing a button and staying absorbed in the virtual world, then I am confident that I can spend the same amount of time praying for people I see on trains and buses, for my loved ones and to give thanks for all that I have. Instead of being consumed by my button, I could be consumed by things that actually matter.

What does your button mean to you? This much I am convinced: Surely we are more than the buttons we have in our lives. Would you join me in my effort to make life count a little more?

Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions are subject to personal interpretation and might not necessarily be true to all. 

NATALIE is immersed in music: does all things editorial at MTV Asia by day and sings in the toilet of her executive HDB flat by night. She loves people and ice cream. For Insta(nt) proof: @intangibility.

1 Comment

  1. Well said, Natalie. Makes me realize the button had indeed become a distraction, and sometimes a ‘shield’ when I do not want to talk… Will reflect on the wise insights, and look at the real world and real people instead.

    Note: you write really WELL, and I am proud of you.


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