Lost in a Smartphone World — In Defense of “Technophobes”

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I’m sure this has become a bit of a common scene for a lot of us nowadays.

I go outside, I see people constantly staring at their smartphones. On buses or trains, I see people furiously tapping away on Facebook or watching a video or two on YouTube. In restaurants, groups of friends would be on some sort of social media app, communicating there instead of with each other. Of course, this doesn’t apply to every single person. But just from mere observation, there’s a large portion of people doing it and the number has been increasing day by day.

I think we should be worried.

Artist Jean Jullien depicts in a number of digital works that are available on his website (you’ll need to scroll through all his posts to find them) this growing reliance on technology and how it’s causing an ironic “disconnect”. A few of these images have been compiled into a Tumblr post that’s been circulating around, which of course attracted the attention of some who defended the behavior.

why do baby boomers love to produce this “technology is bad fire is scary and thomas edison was a witch” garbage? – poopjokesanonymous

User zmizet added to this with a lengthier post (which I highly suggest everyone read and take into consideration) that ended with the following notion:

Technology isn’t bad. You’re just upset with yourselves for having a lack of self-control. You hate that people connect through technology. And maybe, you just don’t like seeing people love themselves, enjoy life, and feel joy. That’s your problem, not technology’s.

Now, before I really get into writing this post, I want to clarify that I am NOT a luddite, nor am I a person resistant to change. I firmly agree that technology is benefiting us in a whole multitude of areas and personally, I am trying to get into the digital media industry because I am aware of its huge potential. I run a number of social media accounts in relation to my online content creation endeavors and I use my smartphone to contact overseas friends daily. This is among other things I use technology for.

But despite this, I don’t think the issue of being over-reliant on technology should be dismissed so easily as some form of “garbage” from an older generation or as a projection of blame from people who cannot take responsibility for their lives. Things are never that simple.

Mobile addiction is very real. Flurry recently found that the number of mobile addicts has increased worldwide. Rehab centers have started popping up because of this growing trend. Researchers from Chicago University’s Booth Business School say that tweeting and checking e-mails are harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol. We know that dopamine is associated to feelings of pleasure and want, and is stimulated by the uncertainty of rewards — which is exactly what the online environment gives us. And we can find ourselves stuck in a dopamine loop as we continue to surf the Internet. Like in any other addiction, we may easily fall prey to telling ourselves that we’re not addicted when we actually are so we must be cautious.

Smartphones can’t really be avoided either. They’ve become a must-have in most developed societies. The United Nations has reported that more people worldwide have access to mobile phones than they do to sanitation facilities. In many modern cities, people are constantly bombarded with advertising that encourages the use our phones in one way or another (“Like our Facebook page!”, “Download our app for coupons!”). Our friends and family are online, and they’re talking about things that have happened online. To add to that, we’re in an age of greater mobility so we need technology to stay in touch with those who matter to us.

With so much technology surrounding us, it can get hard for addicts to quit. The triggering temptation is always there, even more so than it is for substances we usually associate addiction with (can you really ask your whole family to completely do away with the smartphones?). With all this in mind, should we really be placing all the blame on these people who have no “self-control” when we’re living in a world where digital immersion and hyper-connectivity are becoming the norm? I don’t think so. Our environment is encouraging this reliance. We also have to remember that some of those in the younger generation have a different concept of “self-control” because they’ve grown up in this kind of place.

There’s another thing that I want to address. Allow me to digress a little. While it is true that technology helps those with anxiety avoid uncomfortable situations, it is also true that fear is a normal human reaction and sometimes, it’s in facing our fears that we learn to become stronger and more confident. I know that not all people can recover from their anxieties in this way, but I feel like more people would be able to become less socially awkward if they only understood that not all anxieties should be avoided.

Again, I’m not trying to convince anyone to throw their phones away or burn them in a fire. What I’m calling for is simply to become more aware of how we’re using these tools that we’ve created for ourselves. Time and time again, we’ve seen studies on how the over-reliance of technology can negatively affect quality human interaction or even our mental health. No amount of screen time can replace being with someone physically or being aware of what’s around us in the moment. There will be consequences if we continue to judge people who are struggling with their addictions instead of encouraging them to recover. The same can be said if we continue to underestimate just how much we’re being influenced right now.

If you’d like to learn more about technology and its negative influence on Millenials and the iGeneration, I’d highly suggest reading Joni Siani’s Celling Your Soul: No App For Life.

Comments on the topic are highly welcome as well so feel free to fire away! 🙂

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