Can Your Smartphone Make You A Better Person?
by Emily Zimmer
When the first smartphone hit the ground running in the early 1990’s – who could’ve predicted their epic takeover?
Well, to be honest, just about anyone.
Enter stage right: the vicious takeover of the most versatile piece of equipment on the planet. A translator, a teacher, a map, a vacation planner, a camera, an editor, an alarm clock… a friend.
There’s no wonder we consider our phones to be the most important piece of technology in our lives. While our parents constantly remind us that our smartphones makes us dumber, endless top-ten lists convince us that they make us smarter, and according to various studies, they actually do. With apps that teach us languages, improve our memories, and count our calories, it would seem obvious that these glorious inventions can only make us better human beings. Of course, this is an argument we’ve been hashing out for over two decades. What happens when we all agree that overall, our smartphones make us smarter?
We have to ask ourselves: What exactly does “smarter” mean?
While technology may make us smarter, “it (certainly) does not make us wiser.”
While this generation constantly battles between minimalism, glamor, and whatever comes in between, how many people actually stop to ask if the little, itchy device that runs their entire existence, is actually making them a better person?
The Real Question
Do smartphones give us a better sense of morality? Do they make us kinder? Wiser? More sympathetic? How ironic is it that the more we use hashtags and social media to promote good human behavior, the more it takes us away from actually going out and acting on our beliefs. And even while engaged in activities; of charity work, peaceful protests, and visiting the sick, we must document it all with our smartphones to have something to show for it later. From sharing each of our daily activities with every resident of the planet, to interacting with our grandparents by teaching them how to use Facetime, there’s no doubt that our ability to be satisfied with the ground beneath our feet has withered almost entirely. But tell me something I don’t know.
Our smartphones teach us to take the easy way out. Millennials are born thinking that if something doesn’t work perfectly, it’s broken and “not worth my time.” If an app has an unfriendly user-interface, we automatically label it as behind-the-times, and not worthy of taking up space on our phones. If a video is running slowly, we instantly blame the internet connection and fearlessly start draining the data on the family plan. Even more so, technology teaches us to acclimate ourselves to the things we know and fuss when those things are taken away or “upgraded.” In fact, this is quite ironic. While we wait to upgrade to the newest generation, we throw tantrums when Apple does things like rid us of the headphone jack, or eliminate the “home” button we’ve come to know and love. How ironic. In our constant state of dissatisfaction and desire for the shiny and new, we mourn old attributes of our tech and slowly come to familiarize ourselves with the new stuff – as if we had a choice in the first place.
Countering Smartphone Dependence
While technology has the ability to save us time and money, it also robs us of ours of family time, sleep time, and time better-spent running around outside. Yet any psychology article has the ability to tell us what exactly is gluing us to our phones. We’ve learned to associate our phones with the good feelings our brains crave. We’ve learned to tie feelings of happiness and fulfillment to our phones – feelings that have proven to be fleeting, otherwise we wouldn’t constantly find ourselves scrolling, tapping, and sliding.
It’s the anxiety that gnaws at our hearts and souls and tells us – “you may be missing something.”
What is most ironic is the apps that attempt to teach us how to regulate our smartphone use. The app Forest implores you to reduce the time you spend on your smartphone by planting a little virtual tree that will grow into a lush forest the longer you leave your phone alone. Of course the evil is vibrantly colored and dancing in the foreground of our story. Can it get more diabolical than this? An app to dissuade us from using other apps? Please come talk to me in 60 years when my rocking chair is mobile and my grandchildren are explaining *insert X future tech invention here.* (All hating aside, I’ve used this app and actually found it to be helpful.)
Meanwhile, an entire subculture of non-addicts go calmly about their business without looking to their phones for approval. They respond to their children without delay, they turn airplane mode on before the plane takes off, and aren’t constantly roaming any new environment for the closest available outlet. Of course, these space cadets are forever bullied for being “hard to reach,” “unavailable,” and “bad texters.” So where does that leave us? Is anyone actually okay with how much they use their phone? Does it matter if our smartphones make us better people when no one ever proclaimed that to be their purpose in the first place?
Questions and Possible Answers
To these queries, answers may vary. It’s important to find a balance between the things we need and the things we want. Is there anything wrong with developing a bad sense of direction because Waze runs our lives? Have we lost the ability to make eye contact because our screens are too blinding? Are we ignoring our friends and family because we’re too busy scrolling through life? If your answer is yes, then make it your business to moderate your phone use: but maybe there’s more to limit than simply this, and maybe most of us are already doing it without even noticing.
What can mankind do with a device that holds endless information? A tiny box with a magical connection that allows us eternal access to the internet – I’d say we’re quite good at limiting our usage already, wouldn’t you? With so many possibilities, most people use their smartphones for getting directions, streaming music or videos, or video-chatting. But is that really it? Isn’t it obvious that there are better ways to use our smartphones to make us better, smarter, and wiser?
Is the problem that we’re overusing our phones? Or that in reality, we’re underusing them. Are we listening to the right podcasts? The ones that will help us think about the way we treat other people and the world around us?
Are we playing the right games? The ones that promise to improve our memories and quicken our thinking?
Are we talking to the right people? The friends who inspire us and want to see us become the best people we can be?
With the entire world at our finger tips, we must take advantage. Being a smartphone addict has taught me many things – the first is that spending hours at a time away from our phones is crucial and wonderfully enjoyable. As much as technology is an imperative part of this generation, it’s important to take a break and remember who we are off screen. Don’t worry, this gets easier with practice.
The second thing is that in this case, we don’t necessarily need to fight our addictions, we just need to make them work for us, not against us. Recognize the things that you actually use your phone for and ask yourself if they’re necessary. What if there’s a better way to be spending your time? What if you’re moderating your phone use in the wrong way?
The third is that experiences make us wiser than reading about experiences. If your phone is inhibiting your desire to be out in the real world trying new things with new people, then we have a problem. Do you control your phone, or does it control you?
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