On Smartphones

I recently had an exchange with a close friend that condensed some nebulous feelings I’ve been having into annoyance acute enough to distill into this. Such is my process.

My friend discovered that I don’t have a smartphone. I never thought this was a big deal, but rather than treating the revelation with the same interest and intensity that one would reserve for discovering someone boiling their water on the stove instead of using an electric kettle, he seemed to take it personally. “Why not?! Adapt or die!” he exclaimed.

Uh-huh. Well, sorry, but of all the things likely to kill us in this world, not having a smartphone doesn’t seem high up on the list. This shit is not our next evolutionary step; it is a conduit for advertisers and web companies to beam their bullshit directly into our brains. However, my friend’s tendency to engage in hyperbole aside, he did get me thinking.

This is not the first time I’ve run into this attitude. I’ve had numerous people get emotionally invested in the kind of phone I use, and then take my lack of enthusiasm for their choice in consumer electronics as some kind of personal slight. Or they skip right to the abuse phase of their shilling exercise. That’s fun too.

“Oh man! Your shit is so old! Bleat, bleat, quack, quack, honk!” *vomits Apple logo into my entree*

The tendency to take another’s choices in what to consume, or not, personally is a basic personality malfunction that’s pretty common. This is not my topic. I am here to answer my friend’s unreasonably put reasonable question: Why not have a smartphone?

My answer was and is: Why would I? I’m misanthropic enough without piping the internet into my head 24/7.

Now let me get one thing straight: I’m glad you have purchased something you enjoy. That’s swell! I will happily pretend to listen to you recommend it to me, once or twice, if that’s what you want to do. I simply don’t see why I should have to defend not buying one myself. But since that’s what I seem to be doing here, I may as well get on with it.

The reaction to my lack of smartphone use runs deeper than the simple superficial huff over someone not liking what you like; the “how could you order a fish fillet when there’s a Big Mac on the menu?” The level of the reaction is telling of the depth of the person’s love of, and dependence on, the device in question. It’s like I told them that I don’t use toilet paper: the immediate, visceral reaction is one of, “how does this neanderthal even function?”

To many smartphone users, the device slowly becomes the very center of their existence. It is the needle that delivers the heroin of internet addiction. Mainlining Facebook, Instagram, and Celebrity Star Fuck. These are all products, and on the internet we the consumers also become product to be packaged and sold to other corporations. Rather than consuming these products in scheduled times, like other consumption based leisure activities, the smartphone user is able to do this during their every waking moment.

If you fail to see why this has the potential to be very, very bad for some people, then I can only ask you how the blue pill tasted.

I’m not saying that smartphone users are all brainwashed sheeple addicted to the very source of their slavery. Smartphones are a tool, and I would say most people use them as such in healthy, useful doses. Again, I’m not saying people shouldn’t buy them. But, for people like me, who get addicted to every fucking thing they come into contact with, this shit has real potential to cause very serious harm. As well, I think for anyone, smartphones diminish happiness and true human connectivity over time.

The whole notion of connectivity as it is used to sell internet delivering technology is a big, beautiful, genius lie. Connected to what, exactly? Okay, maybe you’re using the internet exclusively to talk with far away friends and family, read important ideas, and educate yourself about the world you live in. That’s fabulous. However, for most it’s all that other stuff.

I’m speaking directly to the smartphone addicts now. So if this doesn’t apply to you, then pretend you are berating them alongside me. It’ll be therapeutic.

The problem is, this connection to whatever you want online is immediate. There are no more quiet, dull moments to fill in life. You aren’t forced to ponder your own existence at the bus stop while watching other human beings do the same. You don’t notice and appreciate the beauty of someone’s little garden because you’re too busy looking at pictures of Earth porn and worrying that you will never get to go such places. You are less likely to notice the interesting and beautiful things going on right next to you. And when you do, your first impulse, indeed your only reason for looking up from your phone in the first place, is to take a picture of it or tweet about it. All to generate imaginary internet points while you fundamentally miss the full experience of what you are meticulously cataloging.

This is the source of the feelings of isolation and loneliness so many are feeling. You are missing those quiet moments with yourself, to be filled with contemplation and self reflection. This is how we communicate with ourselves, get to know ourselves, learn to love ourselves. You are feeling lonely and isolated because you have become separated from yourself. Your inner life has been hijacked by a constant barrage of product.

Further, this technology that has the affront to claim it’s all about connecting people is actively driving a wedge between them. Maybe you actually retain some semblance of etiquette and basic human social skills and do not continually check your phone when spending time with people. Spending time face to face, in person, having actual conversations that don’t rely on factoids and trivia regurgitated from little hunks of plastic. Some people still enjoy this. But even when you’ve put that phone away, I can feel the anxiety building in you, because like Pavlov’s dog, you have been conditioned to need to know “what’s up” immediately, and consume more internet product every time your little device chirps at you.

So, given that this is what I see going on around me, and given that I can get as addicted to the internet as the worst of them, I am not going to buy a smartphone. Thank you for your recommendation all the same.

Pete Holmes said basically the same thing quite a while back but much more eloquently than I ever could. Check it out.

One thought on “On Smartphones

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