Life

Can we Ever Kick our Smartphone Addiction?

I spent a couple weeks in Germany a few years ago, and found myself – by accident –  near-totally disconnected from the digital world, thanks to my cell phone not working in Berlin. No notifications. No pings. No little-red-dots hovering over every app icon on my home screen.

It was a transformative time. I realized the extent of my smartphone addition, And when I returned, I began scaling back my dependency on iPhone notifications. Initially, I turned off all of my notifications (except for CBC News, and Maple Leafs scores), and switched my email over to “pull” instead of “push.” Then I deleted the Facebook app. Twitter and Instagram soon followed. Recently, I’ve blocked facebook.com entirely from my iPhone browser, and have limited myself to 15 minutes per day on my desktop browser, using the great Safari Extension, WasteNoTime.

There’s more than enough evidence of the deleterious effects of smartphone addiction. Once you kick the habit, it’s hard not to see it everywhere around you. But it’s the long-term implications that scare me. We’re just beginning to understand the damage we might be doing to our plastic brains, and the new evidence on how smartphones are damaging the bonding between parents and newborns absolutely terrifies me.

That’s why it has been heartening to see some tech industry leaders taking notice of this. The Globe and Mail has a fantastic dialogue with Jim Balsillie, former chairman and co-CEO of Research in Motion (now known as BlackBerry Ltd.) and co-founder of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

The piece – Can we ever kick our smartphone addiction? as a whole is an illuminating read. Here’s a sobering chunk from it (emphasis mine):

Privacy and mental health are inextricably linked, especially for young people. You need periods of privacy to form a self and an identity, a task not completed until at least the late teens. Having an autonomous, spontaneous self is the result of a long psychological process where you have time to “step back” from the crowd, and from your parents, to reflect. It requires time to let that self – your true feelings, your own quirky, uncurated reactions – emerge, spontaneously. The new phones foster enmeshment with parents, and the world, and hamper individuation, the process of becoming a unique individual, because kids are overconnected

The “wisdom of crowds” is overrated; many crowds are far more regressive mentally and emotionally – and stupider – than the individuals who make them up. Kids know this, but lacking a solid sense of self, still long for the mob’s approbation and are terrified of its censure. And so they keep checking for and fishing for “likes” and now are compulsively virtue signalling to avoid being disliked, instead of developing actual virtue

Social media is a 24/7 hall of mirrors, with everyone watching themselves – and everyone else – and making comparisons, all the time. This hugely exacerbates the ordinary painful self-consciousness, insecurity, narcissistic vulnerability and drama of young people’s lives… Depression has increased since 2005, most rapidly among people 12 to 17…

It also teaches kids precisely the wrong way out of the mess: grow your vanity. Post selfies of your best underwear pic on Snapchat; airbrush your opinions to get likes. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, pondered the soul of the modern bourgeois as affected by social life. He observed – as beautifully summarized by Allan Bloom – that the bourgeois “is the man who when dealing with others thinks only of himself and in his understanding of himself thinks only of others.” That is many kids today.

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