July 29, 2018

Smartphones Ruining Our Lives

Cleaning Smartphone Touchscreen
Photo by Intel Free Press [CC BY-SA 2.0]
I recently saw someone on Facebook sharing yet another one of those "Have smartphones destroyed a generation?" articles that we have been seeing all over the place. I didn't bother to read it. The combination of the title and the accompanying image made me suspect it was another Millennial-bashing article, and I've tired of those. Most of those I have read seem determined to make our problems with smartphones into a generational issue in which the authors focus their criticism on the youth. Most of the people I know personally who use smartphones in ways that interfere with their ability to function are not particularly young. Some are older than I am. That's not to suggest that young people are immune to this, but I don't think that age is the main factor here.

While I was writing the other day, I looked out my window and saw a kid riding a skateboard down the street. He grabbed my attention because I don't see too many skaters around here. I'm terrible at estimating age, but I'd guess he was about 14. Despite how quickly he was moving, his face was buried in his phone. I don't think he looked up once while covering at least 50 yards. He's lucky there was no traffic. I found myself hoping he wouldn't hit a pothole, a rock, or some other obstacle because I think his lack of attention would have left him unable to react in time. Still, I wouldn't have any basis for claiming that his phone was ruining his life.

The kid who ran into the back of my car a while ago because he was playing with his phone instead of driving safely comes a bit closer. Nobody was hurt, his vehicle was the only one that was damaged, and I wasn't smart (or angry) enough to call the police. Had I done so, I suspect he would have been in some trouble. His insurance was expired, and there was a witness who saw him playing with his phone at the time. He would have faced some unpleasant consequences, but I don't think I'd claim that his phone was ruining his life.

I work with a guy who is only a few years younger than I am, making him way too old to be a Millennial. He cannot seem to walk more than 3 feet or interact with anyone for more than a few minutes at a time without looking at his phone. It is so annoying that many people, including me, go out of our way to avoid him. Not only is he always bumping into people because he's looking at his phone instead of where he's walking, but his refusal to take his eyes off his phone while having a conversation is widely regarded as rude. Confronting him about this has not helped at all, and it seems like there is something almost addictive about playing with the phone for him. His phone just might be ruining his life.

And similar to this guy, I know a few people who are older than I am who seem to enjoy their phones far more than their surroundings or others in their environment. Over the last decade, I have seen my own father go down this road. He's not as bad now as he was a few years ago, but I think this is because my mother eventually told him she couldn't stand it anymore. When it was at its worst, he was nearly as bad as my co-worker. Had it not been for my mother's intervention, it could have ruined his life. I know it has made me want to spend less time with him, and considering I don't see him more than a couple times a year anyway, that's significant.

I am irrational in plenty of ways, some of which degrade my quality of life. Being addicted to phones is not one of them. When I am outdoors, I want to see and hear what is around me. I enjoy nature, and I don't want to miss out on whatever it happens to be doing because I'm focused on my phone. When I am interacting with other people, I am focused on what they are saying to me and on trying to be the sort of person I'd want to talk to. I can't say I am ever even tempted to look at my phone in such situations.

I think it is clear that some people use their phones in ways that negatively impact their lives. I'm not sure this has as much to do with their age as other factors. I am around quite a few 18-25 year-olds, and I don't see them as being any worse in this regard than many people who are twice their age. I'm not sure why some people seem to unable to resist the pull of their phones and others have little difficulty doing so, but I'd guess that there are more appropriate targets for our blame than the phones.