Happy new year, readers! We hope Christmas was a blast and New Year’s Eve was not filled with tight bellies and self-loathing. If the endless parties and social engagements have triggered a bit of need for “self-care” and some “me time”, then here is something to think about as we head into the end of this decade.
From cursory conversations on the subject phone usage we’ve had with friends over the last few months, it sounds like most of us are suffering some sort of silent fatigue from our relationship with our smartphones. From incessant messaging, social media posting, endless photo-taking, staring at our screens late into the night, to the phone being the default thing to bring to the bathroom, we’re become so attached to it that we can’t seem to allow ourselves any privacy from our digital life; Which may seem like a strange concept as we may seem to think that our phones are our own little private worlds.
Like it or not, the smartphone, with unconscious use has and can make your Real Life a little (or a lot) worse for the following reasons.
#1: The ceaseless, out-of-control, simultaneous streams of un-nuanced communication.
Does this make anyone happy? We’ve somehow gone from SMS-ing and (omg!) MMS-ing to arrive at the incredibly wearying culture of “inboxing” across multiple communications apps (sometimes with the same person). Think rapid-fire nature conversations that swing from the private to the professional simultaneously as you try to keep track of who said what… and where. Over SMS? Whatsapp? Slack? FB messenger? Instagram? Or your seven e-mail accounts?
This barrage of itty-bitty communication can wear your brain out, trigger “speed of response” anxiety and ironically make you feel that you don’t have your shit under control. Just remember that while your phone is a speedy conduit, it does not control the quality of the communications that fly through it or the appropriateness of when it is delivered. Read: You are not obliged to respond to every emoji comment someone leaves on your latest Instagram post. It’s not rude, it’s an entirely natural defense mechanism against a technological onslaught that is slowly sapping away your sanity.
#2: Despite what they tell you, it’s actually only suitable for SOME things. And It’s amazingly crap for most.
Some of us may still be sold on the idea that the smartphone is that essential tool that we can run our lives on and therefore we feel it has to be by our side all the time. As a result, there are moments where you feel compelled to be “productive”, when you are on the go. But is it really that good at all for that?
The smart phone has been around for more than a decade with a relatively mature development of all sort of mobile “optimised” productivity apps. We’ve downloaded the mobile version of these essential work tools and honestly, while technophiles may come at us for saying this, it’s clearly not the right device for most productive tasks, and due to its compromised form-factor, may never, ever be!
Writing essays. Nope. Editing PDFs. Nope. Composing e-mail properly? Nope. Digital drawing? Nope. Spreadsheets? Are you kidding me? It’s not even that great for online shopping!
Comparatively, phones are great for:
Wanton social media. (OBJECTIVELY, YES.)
Sexy pictures. (Aka: P*RN.)
Silly games. (Mostly ones that involve exploding coloured orbs.)
Shazam and/or Soundhound. (Cos cannot openly ask what track, you will appear swakoo. But why are you standing so near the speaker suddenly?)
Maps. (We are always lost.)
Calculator. (We are always broke.)
Pokemon Go! (It will never end.)
And checking how poor we are through a banking app. (Because we like the feeling of a cheap surprise.)
We’d also like to point out that those applications listed above (particularly 1 to 3) were literally designed to make your smartphone the most addictive object you’ve ever owned in your life. Doesn’t that just make you hate it (and yourself) that much more?
#3: We usually look pretty shit when engrossed with our smartphones.
The Star Trek tricorder has long been credited as the inspiration to the birth of the idea of a sexy handheld technological device that worked for the user. Whipped out in an emergency, it gave immediate answers to brave space fairing crews looking for answers (How did he die? Can I breathe the air on this Planet? What’s today’s date? Who’s the president?)
It was the device that made humanoids look smart and helped them with their decision-making. After saving the planet was done, the tricorder was tucked away in their form fitting Lycra outfits until the next life threatening situation presented itself. In 2007, with the birth of the modern smartphone, it would be fair to say that concept of that device was perhaps analogous to that multi-function tricorder. It was the 3-in-1 device that was supposed to change our lives and help us surge forward as a species, informed and connected, into the future.
BUT, the sexy, task-oriented tricorder doesn’t quite match up to the current reality of our smartphone usage – in which we passively consume “content” on a tiny, ill-sized phone screen with our shoulders rolled forward and our heads tipped forward like we’ve been hung. We assume this unappealing posture everywhere and anywhere – bus, MRT, public toilet, malls, at the dinner table. Which means, the smartphone as we mostly use it, really has made us all look like a bunch of sub-conscious knuckle-draggers, and yet we don’t seem to mind too much.
Did we mention how bad this is for your physical health? We’re all suffering from “tech neck”, which doesn’t just refer to the extra wrinkles you’re developing on your gullet, thanks to all the time you spend watching Black Mirror on your phone. So just bear in mind this as you read this on your smartphone on the bus. Maybe switch the screen off, tuck your phone in your lycra outfit, sit up straight and… go peer over the shoulder of the person in front of you and see that THEY are watching on their phone!
So where to from here?
In spite of all these perspectives, you may subconsciously think that we have no choice in this and that we are caught in usage patterns and habits that are virtually unbreakable. (Or maybe you think this consciously and are caught in an endless loop of smartphone-addiction-self-loathing, as we are.) But this is a reminder that there are ways to determine your fate with your smartphone if you feel that it really butts into your life a bit too much – and namely to just leave it.
Shocker! Yes, just LEAVE your phone behind. Try not taking it along as you head out to exercise, or on short trips out to the shops, or even when heading out for a quick meal. Unhook yourself for those moments and un-notify yourself. The phone may be pestering you for attention, but that not to say you have pay any attention to it. And if someone at the other end unreasonably expects you to jump at communication, suggest to them that they need to resolve childhood issues.
And it a surprising twist for some of you readers out there – and to prove we’re not luddites –if you do need a scant digital connection, we do suggest to look at emerging cellular-connected wearable devices with a limited feature set (i.e. a watch, lah). Compromise your tie to the connected world (while you can) with a slightly handicapped device. One of us on the JUNK team has tried this out when he is out riding his bike and seems happier for it. Unfortunately, he does look a bit of a prick talking to his wrist.
Why the concern?
If you’re the sort to keep track of these things, you would know that heading on into 2020’s, this is going to be a busy period for technology and the next evolution of the smartphone. We’re just at the start of the rollout of 5G networks – which promise even faster speeds and blanketing network coverage – that will be the next step of the “Internet of Everything”. From smart lampposts to mobile-connected fridges, we’re going to see even faster, more powerful, more energy efficient devices that will finally usher in the age of mobile AI, VR and AR for the man on the street.
And all of this will be sold to us as good, and all of this will be sold to us as essential (to your mobile life). We’re going to be bombarded with even more reasons to upgrade our phones, then download and use new “killer apps”. They will find more reasons to keep us hooked and staring into the little void in your hand.
For some, this will sound like great fun, but for the rest of us, it can feel like the future is running away with itself at the expense of our sanity. And if the invasiveness of it all is causing you any sort of unhappiness, maybe it’s good to call time on the madness now in 2019, so that we can be wiser about what it all means to us in the future.
As Jony Ive, designer of all things smooth and shiny at Apple said: “The nature of innovation is that you cannot predict all the consequences.” Even for a tech visonary like Ive, constant use of the iPhone equates to “misuse“. Possibly a clue that we are all soon going to hell in a handbasket if we don’t change our smartphone use habits, but at least it will be a thinner, faster and more powerful one fashioned from machined “alu-min-yem”!