Smartphone addiction is an epidemic. Purely by man hours, smartphone use and social media are the biggest time wasters in the modern era. The smartphone is the ultimate distraction – at least 80% of people using one suffer from information overload. Whenever people have a spare moment they pull out their smartphone. They will send a few texts, or scroll through their Instagram feed to give their friends validation.
Maybe they will do something they consider useful such as reading the news. It is still the same thing – a waste of time. This time could be spent with loved ones, used to develop fun hobbies, or to make money. All three are much better uses of time than staring at a smartphone.
Social Consequences of Smartphones
Smartphone use always leads to anti-social tendencies. This is not simply an issue for the person using the smartphone, it is an issue for our entire society. You do not want to be surrounded by a bunch of drones who are always staring down at their smartphones.
This is similar to how no one wants to be in a society where everyone lets doors swing and hit the person right behind them. If you want to make the world a better place you hold the door for someone behind you. Similarly, you don’t want to be a drone staring at your smartphone all of time in public. No one wants to be somewhere where everyone is on their smartphone.
Smart People Know The Risks
Smart people know the dangers of young people overusing technology. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both limited the amount of time their children spent using technology. Jobs and Gates were technology evangelists, if they don’t let their kids use technology freely you shouldn’t let yours either.
This is a common theme with people in Silicon Valley. They don’t use technology the same way the average person uses it. They go on digital detoxes because they know how dangerous technology addiction can be. Just like Biggie Smalls said in the 10 Crack Commandments, “Never get high off your own supply.”
You should never trust a chef who doesn’t eat their own cooking.
Technology and particularly social media overuse is particularly a hazard for teenagers. An eighth-grader’s risk of depression increases 27% when they frequently use social media. And of course the same pattern is observed with smartphone usage. When kids use their smartphone for 3 hours per day or more they are more likely to be suicidal. If that last statistic doesn’t motivate parents to police their children’s (and their own) smartphone usage than nothing will.
In September 2017, The Atlantic published a provocative article titled: Has The Smartphone Destroyed A Generation? Unfortunately these articles quickly get read and forgotten about. Hopefully this one is provocative enough to be read for years. In boldface font halfway down the page the most simplest correlation was acknowledged. “The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.”
An Unnatural Existence
We spend a lot of time looking for the specific problem with smartphone usage or social media. The issue is much simpler than most people think. We use screen-based devices too much, every minute you spend looking at a screen is a minute not spent in the real world. The less time people spend in the real world the worse they feel about themselves.
The real world is where your family is, where your friends are, where nature is. It is also where self-actualization happens. Self-actualization occurs when you accomplish tasks you set out on. Success leads to more success and it helps you build confidence in yourself. Climbing a mountain or running a marathon are real accomplishments. Leveling up in World of Warcraft or reaching 2000 Instagram followers are not legitimate accomplishments.
People overuse smartphones because they don’t understand the relationship they must have with it. People need to use the technology, instead they are being used by the technology. App developers create their apps to be addicting. They send notifications at the perfect times to give you a dopamine hit and make you check your phone.
The Death of Productivity
Software makers often have people employed specifically to ensure “high engagement”. Alternative phrasing – to keep you addicted. If you have a lot of apps and you use your smartphone a lot you will always have app notifications going off. This will kill any hope you have of high productivity. Anton Kriel, a financial markets trader and entrepreneur explains this in the video below.
Lessons from the Amish
More than just changing the life of the individual, technology use is changing the entire fabric of society. This is best illustrated through contrasting two opposing populations. The first group is the tech geeks of Silicon Valley, which is located right next to San Francisco. San Francisco has more dogs than kids. The tech geek’s explanation: Rent is too expensive to start a family. Another explanation: Techies value creating technology more than family and community. The dog may be treated as a pseudo-child. That really is a strange anthropological phenomenon.
The group to contrast the Silicon Valley tech geeks is the Amish. There are many lessons we can learn from the Amish. They are the true non-conformists of the world. They follow the bible literally when it tells the not to be “conformed to the world.” (Romans 12:2) Regarding family and community life, Wikipedia
Bearing children, raising them, and socializing with neighbors are the greatest function of the Amish family. Amish typically believe that large families are a blessing from God. Community is central to the Amish way of life.
Negative Externalities of Smartphones
I believe smartphone and social media overuse comes at the expense of family and community values. In economic terms, the consumption of social media has a negative externality of consumption (when it is consumed there is a negative effect on third parties). Common examples are cigarette smoking creating second hand smoke, and car horns creating noise pollution.
Smartphones create an anti-social society. Humans are inherently social animals. If consumption of product is eroding our social nature (smartphones and social media) then it should be taxed to correct the negative effects on society. This is what the economic theory of negative externality of consumption states.
I disagree with this prescription on how to solve this issue.
I believe individual responsibility is a much better solution than taxation. People should simplify their lives and decrease/eliminate using technology that is eroding the social fabric of our culture.
The simplest way to do this is to delete social media and downgrade your smartphone. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates limited their children’s technology usage, technological leaders are often at the forefront of the seeing the dangers of technology. I believe tech geeks will start making the transition from smartphone to dumb phone soon.
Dumb Phone Renaissance
The dumb phone will make a comeback. Whether it is solely in a niche segment of the population (0.1%) or a noticeable segment (5-10%) of the mobile phone using population is the debate.
If dumb phone usage is a smaller segment of the population the dumb phones will be early 2000’s style phones with a few “designer” dumb phones. These “designer” dumb phones will target the population who desire to be recognized as conscious consumers.
Because if they simply bought an old phone, people might think they have just had it for a long time.
Was life before the smartphone better? Yes, but we have a bias toward the past over the present. The Romans had a phrase for this – “Memoria praeteritorum bonorum” translation “the past is well remembered.” This is a natural cognitive bias but it is true of smartphones.
It is a natural cognitive bias, but life was simpler before smartphones and we were definitely more human.
The cure to all of this is not government regulation, it is taking control of your own life and “doubling down on your own humanity”
Irresistible by Adam Atler (Technology Addiction)
10 Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier (The Dangers of Social Media)