This morning I have been reading yet another spate of articles (here and here) on people’s so-called addiction to smart phones. This type of thing crops up regularly in various guises – ‘Students/Teenagers/Other demographic are addicted to smart phones/internet/games/technology’. It seems to be one of the ‘truths universally acknowledged’ with little argument to counter, since even blind Freddy is able to observe how prolific the use of devices (phones/tablets/computers/consoles/internet) is. Hundreds of articles and posts are circulated complaining about the hours some group or another spends online, how much texting they do, how much gaming they do, and how it can be classified as an addiction/is ruining human interaction/is ruining literacy etc etc. It’s also something regularly levelled at me – that I am addicted to my iPad/tweeting/the internet, or more recently, WoW.
I’m calling bullshit.
Nobody is addicted to smart phones. Nobody is addicted to the internet. Where every single one of these articles and studies fail is that they make an arbitrary observation on a behaviour attached to an object or medium – observing the time and usage patterns connected to a technology – and make no attempt at a deeper analysis of the true behaviour these technologies are facilitating. The truth is that, for many people, being online/texting/gaming is the most satisfying form of intellectual and social interaction.
From my own perspective, the internet has opened up a whole other world for me. I am a shocking introvert (an excellent and accurate description can be found here) and, while I have developed a fairly sophisticated arsenal of ways to fake it, I generally find face-to-face interaction, particularly in groups, wearing and unsatisfactory. I also reject the commonly-held belief that face-to-face interaction must dominate much of our time and any other forms of interaction are inferior. The internet has been a lifesaver for me. Online, I can engage in intellectual conversations without navigating any of the social norms that get in the way when interacting face to face. When I have something to say I can be heard, rather than knowing I won’t because the other people in the room barely pause for breath. My inability to navigate small talk doesn’t hinder my ability to be known for my ideas. And possibly most significantly, the internet allows me to filter. I have 100% control over what I engage in and who I engage with. I am not subject to the random allocations of geography or time.
Introverts aren’t the only benefactor of technologies. Time and geography are also the enemy of the extrovert. People can now to choose to have satisfying human interactions 100% of their time, if they wish. It is possible to never have to be alone. Everyone is able to filter and customise their interactions to suit them in a much more significant way than can be achieved with face-to-face interaction*.
So why, then, is there such a strong push to label this as addiction, as something negative? Why are we pushing for people to reduce their ‘screen-time’? Why is it so shocking to choose satisfying interaction over chocolate? We are finally able to engage in completely satisfying interactions for a much larger percentage of time than we ever previously were able to via the internet, and devices are what enable us to do this. It’s not addiction. We are not junkies for little black boxes and shiny silver things. Really, we are all just being a little more human.
* I haven’t really touched on gaming in this post, since I have written much about gaming recently, but Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken is an excellent elaboration of this concept from a games point of view.