Our devices are in control
When your phone pings, dings, rings or sings, you pick it up. You look at it. You swipe your finger. You punch your password. You do what the device instructs you to do. And you don’t question it.
Nobody gives this reflexive response a thought. We’re conditioned like Pavlov’s dog to salivate over social media, email, Twitter, voicemail or whomever happens to call. We react to the conditioned response to which we’ve been artfully programmed without a qualm, without asking why.
Our devices have taken over. Technology has full control over how we act, think, communicate and even feel. We have become willful automatons serving as mechanical complements to the machines that regulate and define our lives.
It’s a choice we all make — the degree by which we allow devices to control us. But the only choice is to comply. We respond to our devices in abject fear of the loneliness and isolation we would feel by not linking with the rich and gratifying social experience of receiving a Tweet from a friend.
That word — “friend” — has been redefined to include anyone on your network, whether you know them or they know you. Friends have never been so ubiquitous or so removed, ephemeral and superficial. They post. You post. That’s all it takes to affirm the bond of friendship, even though most of it is wrapped in meaningless nonsense that has nothing to do with real, authentic, personal friendship
Is any of this a problem? Not by most thinking. It’s just the way life is today — life as defined by ever-expanding, predatory, commercial outreach. But if it’s all OK, then why does Time magazine run a how-to column: “How to break up with your phone”? And why are there “detox” programs for video game addicts who can’t function beyond the contrived world of pixels?
The Time article states: “On average, Americans spend about a quarter of their waking hours staring at their phones. It’s a love-hate relationship.” The article recommends setting a time limit on your phone usage or diverting your attention with a “phone-free activity” as antidote to our device-centric universe.
In matters of device addiction, there won’t be much success with these approaches. I’ve seen people skiing, hiking and biking with Bluetooth earwicks, jabbering away like schizoids on meth.
So what’s the problem with too much phone usage? Isn’t connectivity what we’ve all been looking and hoping for to quench our desperate need for human interaction?
What’s wrong is that cellular connectivity is a commercially motivated conduit to an infinite web of customers. There is nothing altruistic about Apple iPhones or Verizon Androids or any of the brands that reveal your economic standing and appropriated style. Such connectivity has been shown to actually detract from social enrichment because it isolates users from one another, and especially from ourselves.
Technological connectivity is stealing the consciousness of the user, invading one’s thoughts and controlling one’s life. Phones and tablets are drawing kids into a video game hell from which some never return – doomed to the perdition of pixelated super heroes and super enemies who perpetrate wanton slaughter with automatic weapons.
Offline resorts and alternative youth camps promise disconnection as the only means of weaning addicts from digital media opioids, which they mainline straight into their brains. Never mind contemplative thought or reflecting self-examination, or even a moment of silence. Peace of mind is neither marketable nor profitable. It is dangerous to the status quo culture of material desire and social aspirations.
More and more people are striving to banish dictatorial devices from their every waking hour because they want their attention spans back. They want a real life instead of a fake subsistence based on some programmer’s notion of the good life. They want real, first-person, in-the-flesh friends who they can actually touch and share eye contact with.
I’m writing this on a computer that provides me internet, email, Facebook, etc. I own a cellphone that can link me to all the ills I describe above. But I know that by turning them off, I declare my independence and breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached (sometimes) at firstname.lastname@example.org
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