I use it in the practice room: its great! It's my metronome. It's my tuner. It times my sessions, so I don't go too long on one thing, at the expense of all the other things I need to practice. It records me so I can hear instantly what my efforts sound like. It video-records me so I can see immediately what I look like. It can act as a mirror so I can watch myself as I play.
But then, there are the other things it does. I receive messages on it. I get notifications that it's my turn in a game I play. Or that a new important headline has been released. Or that a new set of photos has been added to my family's photo stream. Or that there's a weather front coming through. I pick it up to check, you know, just in case. While it's in my hand, I check my email. Hey, it's right there: I might as well. While it's in my hand I notice new Facebook entries and check on them. There are ten invitations to follow different links, each to secondary websites or videos. I can't resist and follow a few, reading or watching further. I notice a bank notification and I better see what it is. I remember there's a You Tube of someone I admire playing the piece I was working on. I search for it then watch it. A half-hour has passed.
This never used to happen to me when I was a student. I went to the practice room armed only with my instrument and scores. If I had two hours, I played the guitar for two hours. I wonder how many students today squeeze two hours of playing out of a two-hour window.
Don't get me wrong. I LOVE my iPhone. It's the best thing ever invented, I'm sure of it. But musicians, beware the iPhone! It'll cut, quietly, into your practice time. And think, just for a moment, how you might sound if you played, really played, for the additional 30 minutes, or 60 minutes each day, that you currently sit in the practice room ostensibly practicing, but actually checking messages and your Facebook wall.
I don't want to come out against the technology. There is no question it's changed our lives, in many ways positively, in other ways, perhaps, negatively. But it's here to stay. And as I say, I love my iPhone. However, always being available isn't always productive. Before this device entered our lives, your email would simply wait. You wouldn't know about or think about the latest headlines, game-plays, weather fronts, bank activities, or moment-to-moment thoughts of your loved ones and friends. You would be fully engaged by the task at hand: the practicing.
Of course there have always been distractions. You could bring a book or magazine. you could do other homework. You could leave the room and go interrupt your friends, practicing down the hall. But that was a more self-aware form of procrastination. The iPhone is more insidious. You pick it up to change tempo on the metronome and it buzzes with a notification and off you go. After all, it was already in your hand…
It might be worth it to use the old fashioned metronome and tuner and leave the iPhone somewhere else. Or at least shut it off. But do we have that kind of discipline, of resolve? Do we want to be that focused? Multi-tasking seems so natural now, but really, it's a new normal.
Try practicing like your parents did when they were younger. No iPhone. Just to see what it's like…