Four Big Reasons Smartphones Aren’t Making Us Smarter
Next time you’re out and about in public, try this simple observation “experiment”: Look at all the people around you. How many are head down in some sort of mobile device? How many are tapping and scrolling and thumb-typing away feverishly, tuned out from everything else around them?
The more I look around the more I see people connected and “plugged in” in places and situations that just a few years ago you wouldn’t have. This past week I had three experiences that put together, have me pondering how much better off we really are with all these things.
- On Tuesday, I picked up my daughter from gymnastics class. Arriving a few minutes early, I headed to the waiting area where there in front of me 75% of the parents were glued to either a smartphone or iPad. I imagine most got there within the past few minutes too.
- On Thursday, my wife and I were attending a concert. As we sat in the theater waiting for the show to begin, we scanned the growing crowd and came to the conclusion that we could have been the only people within sight who weren’t fiddling away on a smartphone. Even groups of people — who clearly came to the show together — were all glued to the glowing orbs of their screens instead of talking to one another.
- Then today, as our family sat in the movie theater waiting for The Lorax to begin, we scanned the crowd and once again, so many people were plugged in to their phones. The example that upset me most was the family of four sitting two rows in front of us. Mom and dad sitting on the ends with their kids in the middle. Dad was playing a game on his smartphone; mom was surfing some site. So much for family bonding.
Full disclosure: I do not own a smartphone or an iPad. Sure, I could be easily wooed by the hype. I could probably create dozens of would-be scenarios where these things could do something for me. But you know what? For 38 years, I’ve survived without one and done just fine. I refuse to let some company create this false need for me. I refuse to fork over hundreds of dollars to buy one and be tied to a monthly service payment that borders on outrageous. Not when there are so many people out there who can’t put food on the table and a roof over their heads. As Leo Babauta puts it, these things are just marketing devices — ones that we all have the power to walk away from.
The (Un)intended Consequences of Being So Connected
According to Forrester Research, 50% of all mobile phones in use in the U.S. are smartphones with this number expected to reach 75% by 2016. The total number of U.S. smartphone users topped 100 million early in 2012. There are over 500,000 apps in the Apple App Store. Over one million apps are downloaded every 49 minutes. Scientific studies have shown how using technology can elicit the same kind of euphoric response in the brain that you might see in a drug addict. That’s a lot of connected people doing a lot of stuff on their phones and getting a lot of satisfaction from it.
But what is all this connectedness costing us? I’m not objecting to technology in principle, but when it permeates every nook of our existence and begs for every waking moment of our being, I fear it is having a negative effect on our selves, our families and our culture. Here are four broad ways why I feel smartphones (or iPads or any other mobile device that connects us) are not making us any better:
- They are replacing human-to-human interaction. The conversation is becoming a thing of the past, a thing of nostalgia harkening back to a time when looking someone in the eye when talking to them connected spirits in a way no machine could ever do.
- They are making us too reliant on an artificial intelligence and not our own. Just like muscles, our brains need to be worked too to stay in tip-top shape. Calculators were the first shot across this bow. Now, when “there’s an app for that”… and that… and that… we’re giving up more and more opportunities to use our own brains and intelligence to carry us through the day.
- They are distracting us from bettering our selves and our world. Your phone can’t replace exercise or meditation. It can’t replace hands-on learning of a new skill. And it sure can’t replace volunteering in your community. Imagine if you replaced 15 minutes of screen time with something that actually gave you a real return on your investment.
- They are separating us from experiencing the Heart of Nature. Sure, you could be outside using your device, but in that scenario Nature is nothing more a high school drama club stage backdrop. We must make ourselves truly present in order to open our hearts to experience all of what the natural world can offer us and rediscover our innate connection to it.
Again, technology isn’t inherently bad. Technology has allowed us to do amazing things. We just need to realize when that line that separates help from hinder is getting close — and then have the fortitude to stay clear of it. For our sake and the sake of all those we hold dear.
Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this post feel free to share it with your circle using the Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+ buttons below. Not a subscriber to The New Pursuit? Subscribe today. Many thanks. While you’re here, you might also enjoy these posts:
- Catalysts: Find One. Be One. Change Your World.
- 101 Ways to Escape the T.V. Trap and Enjoy Life More
- The 7 Joys of Time Well Spent and How to Realize Them