Mobile Devices Disconnect Us
Five years ago, a telephone was something you picked up when you wanted to talk to someone.
You couldn't update your Facebook status with it, or listen to music, or tweet, or shop, or watch TV, or even find yourself on Google Maps. Those were dark ages, indeed.
Today, with more than 100 million iPhone users worldwide, and Google's Android laying claim to another 130 million devices, the Instant Age has arrived - a world in which to summon up the answer to any of life's questions, you need look no further than your own fingertips.
Ultimate connectivity. But at what cost?
With our noses buried in our screens much of the day, dinner conversations fall silent; parents forfeit eye contact with their children; distracted drivers smash into each other at alarming rates. Humanity is withdrawing, ever so slightly, into itself.
Josh Freed of the Montreal Gazette compared the modern cellphone to the 20th-century cigarette. Phones are about the same shape and size as cigarette packs, stored in pockets and purses, and the perfect thing for fidgety people to do with their hands. Big Phone, Freed notes, markets to teenagers in much the same way Big Tobacco once did.
A 2011 study found that the average youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spends nearly 11 hours a day online or plugged into entertainment media. When teens are separated from their phones, they exhibit signs of understimulation, low heart rates, and the inability to entertain themselves.
Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is an increasingly popular term among psychologists.
Martin Lindstrom, in a September 2011 piece for the New York Times, used fMRI technology to show that iPhone usage stimulates the insular cortex of the brain. He claims this as proof that people are actually in love with their cellphones.
Is it love?
Or are we losing touch with one of the basic principles of the human condition: the importance of existing in the moment, in the present space around us?
We no longer look to the skies for the weather, or sniff the wind. We don't even consult a meteorologist. Instead we ask our handheld devices, and are content with a number and an ideogram.
We gaze lovingly into our screens... meanwhile, light sparkles on the river, egrets stir in the Norfolk pines, dolphins breach the oil-slick surface of the sea... all this is lost to us, background noise.
Maybe this is the logical upshot of the Nintendo generation -- children raised in a hyperactive game world, a place where it became acceptable to interact with a screen instead of the people around them.
We stare into our hands. We fiddle. We repeat the same actions over and over. We've become neurotic. Living testimony to the law of diminishing returns.
The next time you feel the pull of modernity on your fingers, you might do well to consider this ancient piece of advice:
"Lift your eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh your help."