Put Away Your Damn Fartphone

grim reaper

(They) keep you doped with religion and sex and TV—John Lennon, from his song “Working Class Hero”

Last week I was sitting in a co-worker’s cubicle, discussing an art rendering for a project, and I heard a familiar jingle. Is that my phone? I thought, instinctively reaching for my pants pocket. Couldn’t be Dave’s. I’m the only one who still has a non-internet flip phone.

I’ll be darned if Dave didn’t pull out his own flip phone. Later, I told him how good it felt to know I wasn’t alone in shunning the internet phone. He nodded and smiled, then went into something about iPhone costs, and how China was having the last laugh on the U.S.

Then, this morning, I saw a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about how worldwide feelings of loneliness are becoming epidemic, that the U.K. actually has a Minister of Loneliness to deal with this problem, and that studies show a correlation between loneliness and people who regularly immerse themselves in social media. “(E)specially among millennials, the ever-present phone may in part be why.”

where are you

And I recently read a book entitled The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection, by Michael Harris. Harris discusses how social media—being able to wire in 24-7—is helping to increase social and political apathy and is reducing our capacity for quiet solitude (absence), which in turn reduces imagination, creativity, empathy, and an ability for sustained concentration (one reason, perhaps, why fewer people now read books).

I’ll add that these devices also cause marked deficiencies in vitamin N (nature), and an increase in bad manners, something I wrote about back in 2013 (click here).

apes

It doesn’t take a PhD in media technology to see all this. Just go to a restaurant, or walk through an airport, or visit the local park. Or glance at people driving down the road. (But if you’re driving, don’t glance too long). Our obsession with “wiring in” is, indeed, epidemic.

The problem, as I see it, is less about omnipresent digital technology than lack of self-control. Children, obviously, have yet to learn self-control, and it’s incumbent on parents and teachers to develop this ability. If you put a large bowl of M&Ms in front of a child, then leave the room, what do you think the child will do? If you give your teenager the TV remote, and let him watch whatever he wants whenever he wants, do you think he’ll view PBS Frontline for an hour and then hit the books? Hell, do many adults watch PBS??teens

(TV is one of the reasons my parents sent me to boarding school. I guess it never occurred to them to remove the TV and kick my ass outdoors.)

Unfortunately, when it comes to social media, parents and teachers are setting a terrible example for kids and teens. Not only are they unable to refrain from reaching for this digital chocolate, but many can’t even recognize how their kids and students are being doped.

Not long ago, a friend of mine expressed concern that his son was doing poorly in school. I asked him if the boy had a smartphone. “Yeah, I got him one a year ago. But all his friends have one.” The kid was only eleven.

(Then my friend interrupted our conversation because his iPhone rang.)

***

One thing that really jumped out at me during the CBS Sunday Morning broadcast concerned Facebook. Boy wonder Mark Zuckerberg’s creation has to be the biggest Frankenstein monster worldwide. There are, undoubtedly, positives to Facebook. But as we’re becoming increasingly aware, there are just as many, if not more, negatives. And one of them is how Facebook, incongruously, actually contributes to loneliness.

lonely girl

“How the hell does this person get so many Facebook friends?” is something I once asked myself. Aside from the reality that most Facebook connections aren’t really “friends,” or at least true friends, and that Facebook correspondence between these “friends” is primarily superficial, there’s also this observation by Dr. Brian Primack of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health:

“People are able to take 300-400 pictures of themselves and post that one that makes them look like they are that much more thin or that much more attractive or that much more successful. The impression from the outside can easily be, on social media, ‘Wow, I can’t measure up with my very normal life.’”

Ah yes, the ever-popular selfie (or “selfish-ie”). Loneliness? How about clinical depression?

help

I’ve been accused of being anti-technology, including by members of my own family—all of whom, I might add (other than my 93-year-old mother), own iPhones. However, that’s an unfair accusation. I’m all for advances in responsible medical technology, which extend life and benefit health. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to my procedure next week to remove my prolapsed internal hemorrhoid.

I’m merely opposed to technology for its own sake, to the worship of technology, particularly leisure technology, by creators as well as end-users. And like I said above, it’s usually not about the technology, anyway. It’s about self-control. Too much technology and science, in irresponsible hands, and without self-control—as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein made clear—can be dangerous.

And as author/environmentalist Edward Abbey also noted: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Or the hemorrhoid.

 

girl on couch

11 thoughts on “Put Away Your Damn Fartphone

  1. Firstly, I will refrain from any hemorrhoid jokes is my guess is you would just find them to be a pain in the ass.
    Secondly, I have seen too many instances where there are people sitting together as a group (usually younger) all of whom are looking at their phones. It depressed me one night when we went out with a friend of ours and her parents, all of whom did the same thing. I have a smartphone and I am not immune to checking it too frequently. But if I’m with you I’m *with*, you not the phone.

    Thirdly, 60 Minutes did a whole piece on how the phone designers designed them to be addictive. So while I am not absolving anyone, they may be subject to forces of which they were entirely unaware.You can find any number of articles on this topic. Here’s just one:

    https://www.businessinsider.com/how-app-developers-keep-us-addicted-to-our-smartphones-2018-1

    Lastly, A young doctor goes to a diner late at night and the waitress comes out to take his order. He notices that she keeps scratching her butt. Finally, he says “Do you have hemorrhoids?”. She replies without looking up “Only what you see on the menu”

    • Thanks, Jim. I’m absolutely amazed at the behavior of people in public places these days. As soon as they take their seat at the restaurant table, out come the phones. After spending 5 minutes checking for status updates, they place them strategically in front, JUST IN CASE there’s an update or text during the meal. “Can’t you fricking wait, at least until you reach the parking lot?” It’s a real pet peeve of mine, and if I comment about it, my wife chastises me. Get a real life, people.

      Will read the article. And not surprising designers made smartphones to be addictive. It’s a shame that so many consumers drink the techno Kool-Aid.

      • Things have really changed though, dude. Might as well get used to it, lower your blood pressure. People take pictures of their food, put them on Instagram and whatnot. Restaurant owners know this and try to make their food more “Instagrammable.” Likewise, I believe the reason they send managers over every three seconds to see if everything’s ok is because they’re terrified of bad Yelp reviews. Brave new world I’m afraid.

  2. Great post Pete. My son and his wife have been married for over 15 yrs and have never owned a TV. They have a great group of friends and seem so much happier than most people I know. Of course they live in the outside of Portland OR so it’s more normal. 😚

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • I’m hearing more and more from people about the virtues of Portland, OR. Please tell your son and his wife that I admire them. While I generally stick to PBS and TCM, I should still read more and watch less. Also, I see this “Sent from my iPhone” tag a lot these days. (Which you undoubtedly included here tongue in cheek.) Question: who cares from where the message was sent? Answer: Apple Inc. stockholders do.

      Thanks Craig!

  3. Two great ironies here. First, we are lonely despite instant connectivity to everyone. Second, we are ignorant despite instant access to knowledge. When the process of acquiring information is effortless, the value of information is taken for granted.

    • Right on, Tad. Regarding the loneliness issue, one can’t help but ask “Why don’t you stop comparing yourself with others and just drop Facebook and these other social media forums? Nobody’s forcing you.” But then, this is difficult for people who’ve constructed a whole world around this shit, especially young people, who have to deal with peer pressure and often lack the strength. For the second point (ignorance), it’s true that when everything is available at the push of a button, there’s no incentive to dig, and learn. “I don’t need to research this topic now, it will always be there on the internet for me.” Instant information is breeding apathy. Then, too, sometimes the “information” itself is suspect.

      Thanks!

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