Smartphones: Too Much of a Good Thing

In a recent CNN article, author Andrew Keen’s referred to our mobile devices as
“Frankenstein-like extensions of ourselves.” Walking around Elon University you are likely to see students moving quickly through campus with their heads down and eyes fixated on their smartphone. These tiny handheld devices have become our Internet, our email, our cell phone, our video game, our walkie-talkie, our newspaper, our GPS, our camera, our flashlight, our weatherman and so much more. We can’t remember life before these all-inclusive gadgets, and we certainly do not foresee a functional world without them.

In Keen’s article, he argues that our mobile devices are becoming more powerful then we realize, and how we must regain our control over the gadgets we have created. The reality behind Keen’s argument is daunting, and targets to our society’s growing addiction to mobile devices. In a 2010 study at University of Maryland students gave up their mobile devices and social media for 24 hours. Students reported that not being able to text their friends and receive a contestant flow of information was almost unbearable. We have become so dependent on smartphones, that we now rely on their capabilities to function. As Keen puts it, we need to untangle ourselves from our mobile devices and regain our power and show them who is boss.

You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

 Keen interviewed Robert Vamosi, an author and “security expert” who discussed how he believes our mobile devices are spying on us. With new Geo-location technology, people can locate where you are at all times. Research done on this new technology revealed that we are being tracked much more than we even know. A research team that investigated this topic explains, “By passively logging your location without your permission, Apple have made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements.”

You Can’t Take That Back

 This article got me thinking. How much of what we say and do on our phone would we want to share with a stranger or even a close friend? Our parents always warn us to be careful about what we put on the Internet, because once it is there, it is there forever. I love my IPhone and it makes my life so much easier, but what if this all backfires? As Vamosi explains, “we’re not thinking in the security sense, we’re thinking in the gadget sense”. We think that it’s cool that we can have everything at our fingertips, literally. Just by owning a mobile device I’ve given up so much of my privacy. The government and my cellular carrier can track every call I’ve ever made and every text message I’ve ever sent. Is it really worth it?

A Hyper-connected, Hyper-addicted Society

Our parents did not grow up with the same sense of “entitlement to accessibility” that we have. If we need to contact someone we expect that they are only a quick phone call or text message away. When I studied abroad in Europe I could get directions, lookup places to go and even find translations within seconds. I depended on my smart phone and it became my safety net. Though mobile device usage has not yet been diagnosed as an addiction, Dr. David Greenfield, a psychologist who is an expert on Internet-related behaviors, says, “The technology has come to own many of us,” he admits. In a study, 66 percent of people sleep next to their smartphones, and 20 percent would go shoeless for a week (43 percent of iPhone users) rather than temporarily release their phones. Comparing the addiction to mobile devices to a gamblers addiction to slot machines. Dr. Greenfield explains, “The truth is, you don’t know, out of those 100 texts, which one is going to be significant or interesting, and you don’t know when it’s going to come.”

Here’s the difference, you can leave a casino, but these days you can’t leave your mobile device because being connected is essential. What we need to do is take a step back and reevaluate how much these little gadgets are controlling our lives, and how much blind dependency we are putting on them. Right now the mobile device industry has a tight grip on our willpower, but I think it would do us all a little good to look up from our phones and out into the world a little more.

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