A few years ago, if someone had told me that a rehab centre exists for phone addicts I would’ve raucously laughed in their face. Unfortunately, in 2016, some realities aren’t worth chuckling about. It seems our excessive need to Tweet, whatsapp and face-swap is linked to deeper problems buried within us.
According to a study conducted at Baylor University in Washington DC, female college students spend, on average, ten hours per day on their cellular devices which is apparently more time than they claim to spend with their friends.
Excessive smartphone use can be considered addictive as it releases the same feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin, released in excess when consuming hard drugs. One of the reasonings behind the findings is that individuals with either blatant or underlying psychological difficulties, use technology as a coping mechanism. Challenges such as anxiety, depression and what are deemed socially-challenging personalities (whatever that means) are masked through ‘heads-down-thinking’ and escapism through technology.
Smartphones and social media are hailed as revolutionary tools for instant communication, knowledge-sharing, journalism and for keeping the powers-that-be accountable to their actions. However, they’re also turning us into sleep-deprived zombies living in a cyber-reality rather than fully experiencing and embracing life.
UCT, for example, is flooded with students shuffling along campus with their heads down and smartphones in hand, dodging loose pavement bricks, trees and people. Many a time I have witnessed the tragic (yet somewhat hilarious) moment of a student – with smartphone in hand – bailing on Jameson steps after missing a step or tripping on their own lack of situational awareness.
Smartphones are the worst when it comes to navigating the crowded ‘post-lecture’ pavements of upper campus, especially for someone as miniature as myself. People bump you, shove you and step on you without even noticing. I remember finding stray bruises on my shoulders in first-year which I now realise in retrospect were from being shoved around by ‘smartphone bullies.’
However, I cannot claim to be innocent. At a point, I realised I was succumbing to the grip of my smartphone when a number of my friends complained that I never acknowledged them greeting me on campus. ‘I wave and you never see me,’ they’d say, and my excuse was always, ‘No, guys I was probably checking my Whatsapp for important messages.’ That response in itself is so problematic. In essence I had just told my friends that they’re less important than my social media messages.
It’s the same principle as the classic scene of a child trying to show their parent a special drawing or painting and being told to ‘shove-off’ because the parent is busy making phone calls.
Indeed smartphones can be extremely damaging to our relationships, especially the ones we have with ourselves. Forget the obvious problems you witness of families having dinner and everyone is on their smartphones, or the inability to enjoy a concert because everyone’s smartphones or tablets are in your face (short people problems) but the idea that these devices can be used as coping mechanisms for depression and anxiety means that we’re choosing to hide from our problems through technology rather than deal with them.
Instead of doing life, loving ourselves and dealing with our issues we hide behind Instagram filters and Facebook quotes. We spend less time talking to people who care about us and more time consulting Google to fix our problems. Instead of interacting with reality, we choose to interact with a virtual realm, because it’s safe and we can control it.
Smartphones can’t replace the beauty of what’s real and we shouldn’t expect them to. We should be addicted to the little things in life, not the little devices that blind us from reality.