Thursday, August 23, 2012

Your smartphone is using you

I've always enjoyed reading what William H. Davidow has to say about anything. He's an intelligent guy, with a broad range of both interests and knowledge, and when he feels passionate enough about something to write about it, his words are definitely worth reading.

And when he writes about how technology — more specifically, computing technology — is taking over our lives and our brains, it's worth sitting up and paying attention to what he has to say. In the article, "Our Tools Are Using Us" (the online title is different, but I like the original title better), he points out that computing and communications technology has evolved faster than the human brain's ability to handle it  —  that is, the brain's ability to control it or to manage it. The end result is that it is controlling us instead.  As Davidow puts it, "The tools are making the rules."

If you were led to this blog entry by an alert in your mailbox, a news item in your Facebook account, or any kind of beep from your iPad or smartphone, you are caught in the trap. And if you found this article because you were on the Web during business hours, and you're still reading it, you are also caught in the trap. I mean, I'm glad you're reading this, but consider the control that technology has over you. You may think that you chose to read this, but, in a frighteningly real sense, technology made you read it.

(And the fact that I'm even typing this right now, and putting a pointer to it on Facebook, reveals that I'm also caught in the trap.)

One of the concerns about this technology trap is that it is ruining the face-to-face social interactions that are the threads that (used to) hold society together. For one example, I think of the high school athletic events that are so different today because, instead of focusing on the action on the field or chatting with fellow spectators, all of those soccer moms (and dads, and siblings, and friends) have their heads bent down and are working their smartphones through mittened hands.

Davidow cites John M. Staudenmaier, a scholar who once observed that "the quickest way to end a deep and meaningful conversation was to glance at your watch." That was in the days before smartphones. What would he say now, when personal, human-to-human contacts are similarly devalued by a beep or a buzz from our iPhones and Androids?

It took a long time to train my family that they didn't have to answer the telephone in the kitchen every time it rang. Now we need to train ourselves that we don't have to jump to our smartphone, iPad, or computer every time it calls for us. We are not Pavlov's dogs.

One of the best ways to tell someone, without words, that they matter to you is to ignore your ringing or buzzing cellphone when you're having a conversation with them. What a powerful message that sends to the person sitting there in front of you!

The other major concern about the technology trap is what it does to you, yourself. People used to have hobbies: working on cars, fly tying, model railroading, woodworking, boatbuilding, sewing, knitting, pottery, scrapbooking, photography, leatherwork, stamp collecting, and on and on. Now instead, they find something to do on their monster-sized, 1080i, HDMI television screens, and they fiddle with their smartphones or laptop computers at the same time. You know you do. Technology has captured you and enslaved you.

Even the cleansing and healing power of the mountains is ruined by these devices. The summits of Colorado's fourteeners are now polluted by remarks like "Wow! I have four bars up here!" and the ritual "Hi.... We made it.... Yeah, I'm at the top." And the sounds of nature on the hiking trails are drowned out by the music that leaks out through too-loud headphones.

Remember that some of the surest signs of an alcoholic are remarks like:
"I'm not addicted to alcohol. I can take it or leave it."
"I can stop drinking anytime I want."
If you have said anything like this about your electronic gadgets or about Facebook or (shudder) Blogger, either aloud or to yourself, then admit it. You are, to some degree, addicted to technology.

You need to give yourself the same consideration, when you're all alone, that you would give to your conversational partner in that paragraph above. Here's how Davidow does it:

I have shut off most alerts and reminders on my computer and smartphone. I check for e-mail on my own schedule, just a few times a day. At home, I have built a physical wall around the virtual world. I let myself read news on my iPad anywhere in my home, but I answer e-mails and conduct business only in my office. I heed Staudenmaier’s advice and never end important conversations by glancing at my smartphone. My iPhone is never ­present when I am out with my wife, listening to the challenges my kids are facing, or playing and laughing with my grandchildren.
Personally, there are times when I take my phone out of my pocket and leave it in the car or in another room, so that I don't have to serve it when it beckons. There's a special place I go to, in the south end of Denver, where I even choose to take off my wristwatch and put it in a locker, so that I can forget about time and concentrate on eternity for a while.

I close with Davidow's own parting shot:

My advice to you is to take control of your tools. I promise your life will be better if you aren’t constantly checking to see if you’ve got mail.

1 comment:

Tiffany Giraud said...

Great article and very inspiring reply. I was never much into tech-y gadgets (you should see the brick that is my cell phone) until I got an iPad. It's amazing and scary how much I rely on it. Thanks for sharing