Print Edition - 2019-03-07  |  ASIANEWSNETWORK

Smartphones: Addiction and gaze

  • We are having fewer quality conversations based on physical presence
- Abhik Roy

Mar 7, 2019-

According to a report published in The Economic Times in 2018, Indians spend roughly three hours a day on smartphones. Based on this report, India has surpassed the United States in mobile app downloads. In 2017, Indians downloaded 12.1 billion apps on their phones and tablets, compared to 11.3 billion in the US. Let’s also not forget that every single minute on the planet, YouTube users upload more than 400 hours of video and Tinder users swipe profiles over a million times. Each day, there are literally billions of Facebook feeds, Instagram posts and blogs that are accessible to us on our smartphone, which invites us to get lost in it anywhere, at any time, whatever else we may be doing.

Adam Alter, author of the bestselling book, Irresistible, informs us that most people devote between one and four hours on their phones daily and others far longer across the globe. These people also spend an average of a quarter of their waking lives on their phones, which is more time than any other daily activity they engage in except sleeping. For Alter, most people have spent a staggering eleven years on their smartphone over an average lifetime. This dependence on our phones is so prevalent that researchers have now coined the term “nomophobia” (abbreviation of “no-mobile-phobia”) to describe the fear of being without a mobile phone.

In a recently published, highly popular oped piece in The New York Times: “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain,” the author Kevin Roose confesses to his own addiction with his smartphone. He writes: “I’ve been a heavy phone user for my entire adult life. But sometime last year, I crossed the invisible line into problem territory. My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching fulllength movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping. I tried various tricks to curb my usage, like deleting Twitter every weekend and installing app-blockers. But I always relapsed.”

The addiction that Roose is writing about has become a global phenomenon. Many have become so addicted to their smart phones that they find it almost impossible to cut the umbilical chord with them. According to Paul Atchley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Kansas, the reason for our inability to sever our ties with our phones is because we are essentially social organisms. This is why there’s nothing more compelling than social information, which activates a part of our brain that is hardwired to respond to unique sights and sounds.

Although smartphones have made our lives easier, more fun and more social in important ways, there’s also a huge downside to this technology. When we are totally immersed in social media, we miss out on real conversations and are incapable of original and deep thinking.

According to many leading psychologists in the United States, heavy users of smart phones often cannot differentiate between various modes of communication and the result is a landscape filled with disconnection and addiction. The worst thing is, if we are used to checking our device every few minutes, we may even become susceptible to what is called a “phantom text syndrome,” when we think we hear a text or alert, but there isn’t one. Those of us who think that we cannot disconnect ourselves from our smartphones need to know that technology does make us less effective workers. According to Joanne Cantor, author of Conquer CyberOverload, “your productivity will shoot up and you’ll give your company much better quality and quantity if you’re not always switching between email and your work…. It is simply because the brain can’t focus on two things at once; so you are always losing your train of thought.”

So, what’s the antidote for the problems associated with our smartphones? Now there are mobile apps that will help us monitor how much time we are spending on the phone each day. Digital wellness is a budding industry these days with loads of self-help gurus offering miracle cures for screen addiction. Some of those solutions involve new devices such as the “Light Phone,” a device with an extremely limited feature set that is meant to wean users off time-sucking apps.

While it’s true that our smartphones have helped us get connected with the whole world and have made our lives easier and more social in important ways, we also seem to have less “genuine” connections with people in our everyday life. We are having fewer quality conversations based on physical presence. Today’s technology has fractured our concentration into smaller bits diffusing them in many directions. As we have become more technologically savvy, we also seem to have lost our ability to live in the present where we can engage in genuine, one-on-one communication. The question is: do we want to live an i-life or a real life? Do we give more attention to a five-inch piece of hardware with no pulse than we give to humans.

Published: 07-03-2019 12:09

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