Thursday, 3 April 2014

I am an addict

I am a self confessed smartphone addict. Ask anyone that knows me, the phone is attached to my hand. I use the device for a multitude of things. Mainly it is my link to the “outside” world. It is how I communicate with my family which is all over the world, my mom, brother and grandmother being some odd 2000 km away. I read on it, I read news, food blogs, car blogs, technology blogs, wikipedia, and I have my kindle app on it so I read books. I watch TV and Movies, and of course I access my Social Media networks.   

What I find most interesting about smart phones is the fact that they connect us to people instantaneously. There are more instant messaging apps and social media platforms than I care to list. When I use my smartphone, I can share my thoughts, feelings, jokes, gossip, videos, pictures, voice notes, and anything else that I find interesting. What that does is it gives me and every other smartphone user instant access to the people we care about - and theoretically care about me in return. What it also does is gives us an increased sense of loneliness when these people are not available at the exact moment that we want them to be available. We should also add to this an increased sense of self importance. When we send a message with any of the most popular messengers, we can see our message being delivered, read and we can see the other person physically replying to the message, and it all happens in real time, so when we do not get the reply that we are expecting straight away there is a danger of feeling hurt, excluded, we worry and we wonder “why don’t they want to reply to me straight away?!”. This simultaneously makes us self centred and it takes this inflated self-importance and erodes it because while we think we are so special that we warrant an instant reply, we are then confronted with the fact that we are not. I can imagine this has major effects on young people’s self esteem and self worth in very negative ways.  

Here is an interesting fact that my best friend pointed out when I was discussing this with him recently. Sometimes you want to take the time to think before you reply. Instant messaging doesn't diminish the level of conversation that we have, just because we are not having it face to face or over an analogue phone line doesn’t mean that the conversation is not important or sensitive. In such moments when you are having a serious discussion or an argument you will want to take the time to reply, you want to ensure that you have structured the message in such a way that your point and meaning come across clearly without being misinterpreted or twisted. You don't want to say anything stupid or hurtful - or at least I try not to, and yes I often fail.

Not only do we have this instant access to the people in our lives, and not only can we see when they are “not interested” in talking to us, but any argument that we have with them is recorded on this little device. Every word we have said wrong, every message can be brought back up and thrown at us at any moment. For me this is an exceptionally negative development within human relationships. In the past unless you had eidetic memory a lot of arguments were forgotten and left behind, where they belong, today these can be revisited and they can cause irreparable damage to relationships that would have otherwise stood the test of time.  

This all leads to behaviour that is not very emotionally healthy or mature. We often forget that this is predominantly communication that is written down, during serious conversations we may not have access to the person’s face, tone of voice or body language, we have no way of knowing how they meant for the message to be delivered, and despite the help of emoticons it is very easy to interpret things in a very negative way. If we are feeling insecure at the time of the conversation we can take messages that are actually positive in a very negative, attacking and accusatory manner. I find all of this terribly disturbing, and that is because I can see all of the above effects on myself and my state of mind. It hasn't driven me crazy yet, but I will admit that there are times when I do get exceptionally frustrated. I think the most frustrated I do get is with my mother. She is someone that is almost always instantly available to me, if she doesn't reply in 5 seconds, if she is not on skype as soon as I tell her I am on skype I get annoyed. It is a completely irrational response. If she doesn’t reply for more than 15 minutes I have a major panic attack, is she well, is my grandma well, has my brother got injured? Usually she is in the shower, eating, cleaning or having a coffee; doing perfectly acceptable things that we all do and that do not require interruption just because I expect a text message.

This is not a good emotional state to have to be in, and this is an emotional roller-coaster that we all go through all the time thanks to the smartphone putting social networks in our hands 24/7  The evolution of the mobile phone into a smart phone did not take into account the lack of emotional revolution and in many respects the emotional retardation of at least western society today. The mobile phone was created for the purpose of economic advancement and growth and there are parts of the world that still use it for exactly that purpose, it empowers women and small businesses in a way that would otherwise be impossible due to poor infrastructure.

Today our smartphones are connected to the internet 24/7, we have messages coming at us from every direction and we do not get a break. Social media has allowed for a particular kind of self image portrayal to occur that is fascinating but exceptionally dangerous for our mental health. We inflate the lives of the people around us through the images and information they have shared and we deflate our own self image, when in reality we are all experiencing the same thing. People have been trying to project a particular image and personality that they believe is attractive for God knows how long, but you needed physical contact for that. Today you get to see EVERYONE’s life and it inevitably looks better than yours. Despite people having staged their lives and their persona for an exceptionally long time, I strongly believe that today we do not have the emotional maturity to deal with this. A lot of us do not quite grasp the concept that what we see on facebook and twitter and the rest of it is a very very small part of a person and their activities, and it is what they want us to see, it is tightly wrapped in bells and whistles specifically designed to attract our attention.

This is where I can pompous and arrogant. I think I have a level of self awareness that is higher than the average person so I can recognise all of these issues that I have mentioned and I see them affect my life. To me that gives me full control over them, I can see the triviality and irrationality of getting irritated at people not messaging straight away, I can see the negative impact that my smartphone can have on my life and I can and will do things to change that. I am going to ensure that my phone is turned off at least one hour every evening and I am going to read, or write or simply have a beer or a walk or something that is “me” time. I think that we all need to do the same, we need to step away from the mobile phone addiction and we need to learn to communicate as adults. We need to learn to believe in ourselves and not require the validation that we think we get from this not quite fulfilling type of communication. It is easier said than done but it is a start. I would also like to highlight that there are many positive sides to the smartphone, and I will visit those very soon!