When rats are given a button that, when pressed, excites the “pleasure” module in their brain, it has been shown that they will press the button unceasingly, even withholding from food, sex and water, until eventually dying of malnutrition. This incredible finding is directly related to the instant gratification that comes from watching a funny video or reading the latest tweets from people you admire: it excites the same cortical areas. And even though it’s fun (so it must be good, right?), it’s taking away from you in ways you don’t recognize. Your smartphone has undeniably made your life easier. But has it made it better?
It’s a dangerous life, being a smartphone owner. You have to avoid walking into people (or walls), you have to constantly check to see if the stoplight has turned from red to green and you have to balance on the tightrope of paying attention to your significant other and to your smartphone too. It is an incredible thing to have the answer to every possible question only a couple of finger-taps away — no one is arguing that. But what are the repercussions of having this opportunity? If you don’t have a smartphone, even if you have iPhone envy (and how couldn’t you), you can attest to what I’m about to suggest, and maybe I’ll persuade you to continue your avoidance. You’re doing it wrong, smartphone owners: you’ve become obsessed. It’s not your fault, though, and you can change it. This is why.
Here’s the truth: with a smartphone, everywhere you go is the most interesting place in the world. You are never more than a reach away from endless entertainment. While amazing, this will take its toll, and it isn’t obvious until you take a step back and look at the big picture.
Think, just for a second, smartphone owner, about the hundreds of people everyday that see you looking at your screen. They see you walking along reading or checking something, pulling it out of your pocket and slipping it back in. It sits on your desk while you study, or while you are in class. You grasp at it as if it were a part of you. And it is: we’ve come to the point where we have what’s called “phantom vibrations” — feelings of our phone alerting us in our pocket when it’s not there. Maybe that should tell us something. When our brain has actually created separate cortical mapping for your phone, it has actually become a part of you. And if you feel stressed or incomplete when you don’t have your phone, that should tell you something too. You’re not “connected,” you say? Well, maybe that unfamiliar feeling is actually the disconnection from your phone and connection to reality. The biggest problem with having endless amusement constantly available is that it removes you from being truly present, in every situation, whether you’re sitting around with friends or just watching a movie. Merely having your phone on you, always ready and willing to interrupt is a problem in itself.
Being ‘present’ is the idea of being connected to life, separate from distractions, or maybe even other people. This allows you time to organize your internal thoughts and past experiences, important or not. Equally as significant, it allows you to come up with new ideas, philosophies or views on whatever, original or not; it doesn’t matter. And this comes from being present.
You sleep with your smartphone next to you, you bring it to the toilet, you carry it if you don’t have pockets, and until a waterproof smartphone is invented, the only remaining place you can truly be free from the shackles is your shower. I’m not suggesting if you give up your iPhone or Android or Blackberry or Blueberry or whatever that you’ll turn into a freethinking revolutionary, capable of reinventing the structure of the world, separating peace from chaos.
I’m not saying that your IQ will go up, you’ll have more friends, you’ll get better grades or you’ll be wiser (though it’s likely). I suggest that if you give up your smartphone — even for a day, or just an hour — and you go outside and think for a while, you may find that you can access a part of yourself that you don’t normally have. It’ll just be you and you, without having everybody and everything in the world in front of your eyes. You’ll have some introspection, and maybe even figure something out for yourself. Maybe you’ll think of something interesting instead of recycling other people’s ideas. Disconnecting from that connection will allow you to start creating your own thoughts, instead of incessantly consuming the thoughts of others.
And maybe you’ll think of something great … And maybe you’ll decide not to share it.
Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson sent this message from his iPhone.