SMART Phone article from parish resident

Smartphones are thieves of time, and this new year, I want to take it back.
I sit with a friend but the second she gets up to go to the toilet, I reach for my smartphone. Instead of taking it out and idly filling the two minutes she’s gone, I flip it to silent and scan the room instead. I’m practising for 2017.
We all love smart phones and they are very useful devices. Smartphone owners use them for over three hours per day. Even by the standards of say five years ago, the current handheld devices are extraordinary pieces of technology with great capabilities. Belying all of this glossy capability however, there are more perturbing elements to the devices so many of us are carrying with us everywhere we go. From worrying reports of smartphone addiction, to the identification of smartphone faux-pas such as “phubbing”, to the news that seven in 10 Americans have used a smartphone while driving and one in 10 people check their phone during sex, the belief that smartphones are harmless is increasingly untenable. The fact that our government can now legally hack them hardly makes things any better, nor do ethically dubious manufacturing and supply chains.The reason aspects of our smartphone use are reported is obviously because they’re surprising and appear extreme, but such behaviours are not as uncommon as we may think. The real story lies in the bigger picture, for which we have to ask the bigger questions. Why have we allowed ourselves to become so dependent on these devices? What does it say about our lives that smartphones have become so alluring and so potent that we can’t put them down?
George Monbiot has argued, the age in which we live is not one that makes us happy. 2016 has been earmarked by many as a particularly difficult year. Whether you attribute it to Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the election of Donald Trump, the deaths of much-loved public figures, or some other cause, it is hard to disagree.
If anything, high-profile world events such as those of 2016 are the proverbial tip of a (quickly melting) iceberg in a seascape of day-to-day emotional distress that has only worsened this year after building steadily for years. The constant pressure to out-compete others and reach unrealistic standards of wealth or attractiveness has combined with uncertainty about the future, boredom, the growing cost of living and social isolation, to produce a quietly disastrous outcome, exacerbated by depression and anxiety, particularly in Britain. One in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health issue each year, and with the likely number of those remaining undiagnosed this means this figure is probably higher. Against this backdrop, many of us are dealing with similar issues to a lesser degree – a dull emotional emptiness that has no name, and that catches up with us every time we are left with an idle moment.
It is in this context that we should understand the pathology of smartphones. Next time you’re on a train and count into double digits the people staring at their smartphones, remember that above all these devices are used as instruments of distraction. German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote that in a capitalist society contemplation was replaced by distraction, might well have exclaimed: “you see?!!” at how his theories have been borne out in the way we use these devices to distract ourselves. Whether smartphones are facilitating access to the constant stream of new content provided by Facebook and Instagram, or the filtered social contact of WhatsApp or Snapchap, they enable an enticing, if momentary, escape from the otherwise dull ache of modern life.
This habit is the trap out of which I urge us all to climb in 2017. While social media can be mildly entertaining and there is nothing wrong with messaging our friends, using a small computer to block out our time to ourselves is not a solution to anything. No chat or social media app will make us feel better about our futures or ourselves, and our habituation to using them is only making Mark Zuckerberg and his friends richer. Smartphone apps can even make you feel worse; following strangers on Instagram, for example, is positively correlated with depression. It is easy to sound moralistic, but the point I make is more about claiming back our thinking time and our attention from these devices. Every second that we don’t spend on a smartphone is one we could spend in some other more meaningful way. You don’t have to volunteer or read classic literature, but at least you have that time at your disposal. How you spend it is up to you.