Lately there has been a spate of posts and articles about how smartphones are destroying our society. They are causing people to disconnect and to lose the ability to connect with other human beings, at least in person. If you spend any time on FB, you will see posts linking to YouTube videos that show the dangers of smartphones.
There are also a plethora of articles out there which address the newly coined “nomophobia” which is the fear of being without your smartphone, including this one in Psychology Today. One of the more rational articles, it points out that in the beginning of a phenomenon – they use smoking as an example – the activity is first accepted and widespread, and then, as people begin to take stock of the negative effects, it becomes more regulated and less common.
It’s not that I believe overuse of smartphones is not a problem. With some people it definitely is, and there have been times when I’ve asked a person to please put their phone down until our conversation is over.
I intensely disagree with the extreme “the world is coming to an end, or will very soon if this continues” type of anti-smartphone propaganda, like in the above-referenced video. The “oh my gosh people can no longer connect meaningfully or live in the moment!” type rhetoric. Let’s be honest, human beings are genius at finding ways to avoid living in the moment. We’ve been doing it long before smartphones, and we will continue to do so long after. The underlying implication in most anti-smartphone ads and videos is that if only we weren’t on our phones, we’d be engaging in meaningful conversation with those around us.
Today I was at Starbucks on Union Square, sitting next to two people who were engaged in a long conversation, no phones of any kind in sight. Nobody checked a device, made a call, got a text…nothing. And they spent 30 minutes (yes, I timed it) talking about their respective levels of messiness and how annoying it is when people – roommates mostly – tell them they have to move their s*%t off the table, or chair, or wherever.
Half an hour.
One 48th of their day.
And I thought, “Wow. Meaningful.”
Joshua has always marveled at the ability of people to talk at great length and with much passion about nothing, and this conversation definitely qualified. How much less meaningful would their talk have been if they’d had smartphones? Hmm, maybe they would have been distracted and changed the subject sooner? (Trust me, those of us sitting near them would have been profoundly grateful.)
Deep connection and meaningful conversation is never a given, with or without an electronic device nearby.
So, as with most things, I think we need to take a breath (or two) when it comes to the subject of smartphones. Be aware of your own usage and realize that the rules of common courtesy should still apply, even if your best friend just sent you the funniest snapchat photo ever! Yes, addiction to the phones is possible, especially among people with addictive tendencies in their personality. But it’s not unavoidable.
In other words, it’s probably not the end of the world as we know it.