Headlines accuse the smartphone of destroying conversation and drawing everyone's eyes downward.
However, smartphones like a Swiss Army knife, have hundreds of uses.
Addiction comes in many forms. I've put my wife under pressure on holiday to ensure we beat the rush to the hotel's breakfast room for my daily fix of croissants.
There were times when I missed morning work meetings because I opted instead for a croissant session, warmed, with melted butter and honey.
There are worse addictions, of course. Trivia aside, no one should belittle genuine addiction.
A colleague's younger brother suffered alcoholism for years to the point he became old before his time and died. Some addictions can shorten lives, break up families and create despair.
Wanting to look at your smartphone is not a sign of addiction, it's a habit.
The Smartphone Habit
So-called smartphone addiction is a latter-day ailment, after privacy issues, to afflict the technology industry.
According to research by Ofcom, the UK communications regulator:
- Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, smartphones have become the most popular internet-connected device (79% of UK adults use one).
- Data usage amounts to 2.9GB in an average month on each mobile data connection.
- The total volume of voice calls has fallen, but people are using their mobiles more for calling – and using their landlines less.
- More than 5 billion fewer traditional SMS and MMS messages were sent in 2018, as people switched to messaging services such as WhatsApp.
The USA market for smartphones is growing. Statista predicts the US will have 285 million users by 2023.
But a study published in 2015 unravels a few more layers of this complex issue. The study found smartphone dependence to be associated with social media combined with self-obsession.
It's too easy to blame the smartphone if we ignore it's the vehicle used to deliver services. It's the services people become obsessed with.
An alcoholic is addicted to the drink, not the bottle.
The smartphone is not the product controlling user behaviour, it is the user's desire for Facebook likes, re-Tweets, or Medium applause.
People can be addicted to the internet and the need to be liked.
A view shared by Alice G Walton on Forbes. Alice says "Phone and social media addiction are intertwined. For younger people, who aren't playing chess on their phones or even talking on them — they're on social media."
The technology industry wants to be seen as compassionate players with user safety at the forefront of their marketing. Apple offers the screen time feature to empower users to monitor and limit the use of apps. Google's Dashboard app will do the same.
It's welcome to give users the option to monitor their use of technology products. Still, the debate only distracts us from industry mishaps on privacy, search bias and UK tax avoidance.
Matt Haig, in The Guardian, thinks "There is something suspect about deploying more technology to use less technology."
Who can remember the zombie nation on the high street?
Young and old walking around town, eyes down at their phones. Memories are bittersweet. Maybe someday we shall return when coronavirus clears.
Commuters, coffee drinkers, and patients in hospital waiting rooms gaze hypnotically at their palm-held device. But reading your smartphone is no different from reading a book or magazine.
More worrying is how susceptible the young are to the internet or social media influence.
Inverse.com highlights social media's influence on plastic surgery and Snapchat dysmorphia.
Teenagers don't want to look like celebrities anymore. They want to resemble the way they do through a Snapchat filter.
I look at my phone countless times a day.
Boredom at work makes reading the weather forecast stimulating.
Boredom is one reason for a checking habit, but creative interest also drives me to my phone.
My palm-top computer is a lifestyle companion allowing me to:
- Take a picture whenever and wherever I want
- Read books on the go
- Listen to music, books and podcasts
- Meditate and track my mindful minutes
- Track my running and set fitness goals
- Log ideas to turn into insightful blog posts. 😉
If it wasn't for the smartphone, I wouldn't have ready access to fantastic software and tools for creative expression. The smartphone is liberating — I don't need a desk to write, Couch to 5k transformed my fitness and meditation apps boost my mental health.
Thank you smartphone!
If I wanted to do all those things on separate devices or, heaven forbid, on paper, I'd need a rucksack to carry everything. That's more embarrassing, walking around town looking like a camper.
In my country there's a saying — call a spade a spade, i.e. describe something as it is. The smartphone is a palm-top computer. For some, it's a mirror with augmented reality, for others, a briefcase full of resources.
The smartphone had led to bad table manners and the loss of conversation. Now, it connects people by making video calling mainstream. With coronavirus keeping families apart, the technology of the smartphone is a godsend.
On the other hand, phone use can be fatal if when driving a car. According to the RAC, almost a quarter of all drivers – just under 10 million motorists (23%) – confess that they make or receive calls on a handheld phone while they are driving.
And on the point of distraction, a few years ago I paid a premium price for Rolling Stones' tickets. In the Gold Circle, I got so close to Mick Jagger I could nearly touch him. The funny thing was, about half the surrounding people saw the Rolling Stones live, the other half got a digital version on their phones. How anyone can hold their phone aloft for two hours, I'll never know.
I call on all developers to ignore the anti-phone debate and keep creating fantastic software.
A smartphone helps you:
- keep fit
- book dinner
- call for a taxi
- monitor your home remotely
- control your lights
- lock and unlock your car
- find a romantic partner
- check words you can't spell
- learn a new language
- and talk to people far away.
Don't let social media destroy life-changing hardware.
My call to developers is this - keep producing wonders, keep delivering exceptional services and keep changing lives — that's what the smartphone can deliver.