It was only 10 years ago when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. Nobody can deny its impact on our world since, in ways we never imagined. Look at all the things the iPhone and other smartphones have replaced - simple items such as the calculator, clock and flashlight. And many more that it has not just replaced but significantly improved, such as calendars, maps and cameras. For many people, it has even replaced their need for a computer. It’s incredible to think that we now carry all this utility around in a device so small it fits in a pocket. No wonder we find it so convenient and invaluable. One would think that everything is better on a smartphone but it’s not. No matter how amazing technology is, it can be more of a hindrance than a blessing for relationships.
If you go through life with your eyes glued to your smartphone, you will fail to notice opportunities to connect with people around you. This article illustrates how putting your phone away can lead to conversations you would miss otherwise. If you’re looking for a relationship of the romantic kind, you should know that your phone can be a turn-off. This study by Plenty of Fish was conducted across 2,000 people of all genders and ages, from 17 to 80+. The number one deal breaker on a date, according to 19% of those surveyed, is someone looking down at their phone. Better to put it away if you want to give serendipity or love a chance.
When it comes to existing relationships, I can’t deny the benefits smartphones offer for staying in touch, especially with those far away. I was thankful for my iPhone when one of my closest friends moved to another continent years ago. Facetime, Whatsapp, Facebook and email have kept us more in tune with each other’s lives than telephone and snail mail could. But our friendship became what it is over years of time spent together, in-person. It wouldn’t be what it is today if it had developed solely online.
Not only is it impossible to build deep relationships through smartphones alone, they also can have a negative impact on a relationship. Phubbing is a term used for snubbing others while in their company because you’re on your phone or other device. Though now a common behavior, it is inconsiderate and scientifically proven to weaken relationships. In addition, research shows that being phubbed can decrease peoples’ emotional well-being by increasing their levels of stress and depression. I don’t think anyone would consciously choose to do that to family or friends but they are, frequently.
That tiny feeling of guilt that kicks in when you are focused on your phone around someone you care about is something you should pay attention to. Spending time together in person and connecting in a profound way is what builds deep relationships - the type of relationship that can last for years, withstanding the ups and downs of life. So, go ahead and enjoy the benefits your smartphone offers. But remember to put it down often enough and long enough to start, grow and cherish the relationships in your life. As wonderful as your device is, it is replaceable - what you have with your spouse, child, friend, parent and others, is not.
Imagine walking into a restaurant and seeing the biggest buffet ever. There are tables and tables of food, as far as you can see. And they are covered with everything imaginable - from American BBQ to Indian curries, from fresh and healthy to sinfully decadent, and everything in between. You see so many of your favourite dishes and many others that are unfamiliar but tempting all the same. And best of all, it’s all-you-can-eat! Now what do you do?
Most people would dive right in, start with a little of this and a little of that until their plate is practically overflowing. Then they would go back for more, plate after plate, because it tastes so good and there are so many options, until they leave having overeaten and feeling disgusting. What starts out as an enjoyable experience could easily turn into a gastronomic nightmare.
I liken this experience to the Internet. Instead of food, it offers an unlimited amount of information on an all-you-can-eat basis. It’s up to us to determine what our limits are and too often we can’t control ourselves. We go online for one thing, see something else that looks interesting, follow endless links and completely lose track of time. While this doesn’t leave us feeling disgusting like overeating does, it definitely can have a negative impact on our relationships, productivity, sleep, and general emotional wellbeing.
Now admittedly, I’m not a big fan of buffets. I find the volume of food overwhelming so I prefer to order off a menu but sometimes they are unavoidable. So, over the years, I have developed a few strategies to help me cope with the vastness they offer and walk away feel satisfied, instead of sick to my stomach. I think these strategies could also be helpful in reducing our Internet consumption, so we spend less time online.
I hope these strategies help you both online and on the less frequent occasions when you happen to find yourself facing a buffet. Bon appétit!
Last month on HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher,’ the outspoken TV personality compared the tech giants in Silicon Valley to tobacco farmers and declared “social media is the new nicotine.” I would have to disagree with him.
Unlike tobacco, cigarettes kill people. Technology (and consuming too much of it) does not. One can also live without any tobacco in their life. But unlike tobacco, I would argue it is becoming near impossible to live without technology. It is permeating every aspect of our lives, moving beyond communications, retail and media into everyday items, such as cars, wearables, household goods and smart homes. Sure, you could get by without any technology but it would be very challenging and you would miss out on the benefits it provides.
I think Bill’s comparisons to processed food are more on point than his comparisons to smoking. Technology companies are like Big Food. The processed food industry has been engineering what we eat for decades, using ingredients such as salt, fat and sugar to make us crave and consume more than we normally would. Similarly, technology companies are using neuroscience techniques with the same intentions, to make us crave and consume more than we need. Because the more we consume, the more profits they make.
Even though I don’t agree with Bill’s tobacco metaphor, I am glad he highlighted this topic and hopefully his segment will open his audience’s eyes to a growing issue. Better to see it for what it really is so people realize they have a problem and hopefully address it. There are ways to use technology without succumbing to its addictive nature but it requires awareness and a willingness to change behaviour.
As Bill said, “Philip Morris just wanted your lungs, the app store wants your soul.” This may sound like a wild exaggeration but there is some truth to his bold statement. And now is the time to do something about it, before we mindlessly slip further into technology’s alluring black hole.
I have a curious mind and many interests. I like to spend time musing about things marketing-related, as well as how technology impacts our world.