It is in our nature as humans to seek support within the things around us, sentient or otherwise. This invariably evolves in conjunction with the development of our world and, inexorably, our technologies. But there is a difference between support and dependence. As we rely more and more on our devices, perhaps we are impeding our own personal abilities and functionality in this world.
A study conducted by UK communications regulator, Ofcom, found that ‘37 per cent of adults and 60 per cent of teens admit they are ‘highly addicted’ to their smartphones’. (Ofcom 2011) An interesting case study presented itself recently when I didn’t have access to my mobile phone for two days. I immediately fretted that no one would be able to reach me. Each time during that period in which I found myself waiting for something, I would automatically reach for my phone, only to remember it wasn’t in its usual spot. It became apparent my propensity for relying on my phone, to avoid the unpleasant chore of waiting for something. I had a persistent anxiety which I couldn’t shake until I had access to my phone once more. My mobile phone is such an extension of my mental self that, with its absence, I felt a loss of a part of myself. Similarly, the ‘Hybrid by Nature’ lecture suggested that “technology is [now] ingrained in social standards” (J. L. Kasunic, lecture, 22 August).
Cyborg Anthropologist, Amber Case, presents a plethora of thought provoking concepts pertaining to this dependency during her TED Talk, ‘We are all cyborgs now’.
Case offers the thought that, while in the past tools have allowed for an extension of the physical self, our gadgets allow for the extension of the mental self. As a result, we greatly invest ourselves and our day-to-day livelihood in these devices. This causes the hitherto unheard of paradox whereby, if we lose a device, and in turn all of the data stored within it, we experience a sense of loss; that ‘something is missing.’ (Case, A. 2010) When the device is an extension of the mental self, the loss of that device equates to a loss of that part of the mental self. Moreover, with the constant threat of hancking upon our devices, there is an even greater threat to our mental state; “we are being dehumanised…by criminals who use the ubiquity of technology and its lack of security to steal from us” (Narayan, A. 2013).
Case further argues that people are no longer taking time for mental reflection. This is indeed correct. Time that was once spent in thought, such as waiting for a bus, or food in a restaurant, or in a queue at the shops, is now followed by the immediate response of pulling out a phone or other device. If we feel such dejection with the absence of our devices, it is clear that we are too reliant on them. We invest too much in these vulnerable pieces of metal and plastic, when we could be realising our true and complete selves with a little self-reflection. So, the next time I have to undergo the abhorrent task of waiting, I won’t pull out my phone. I will spend the time in my own thoughts. Will you do the same?
Brandon, J. 2013, ‘Is Technology Making Us Less Human?’, techradar, viewed 28 August 2014, <http://www.techradar.com/au/news/world-of-tech/future-tech/is-technology-making-us-less-human–1171002>
Case, A. 2010, We are all cyborgs now, video recording, TED, viewed 28 August 2014, <http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now>
Hoffmeister, P.B. 2012, ‘My Technology Is Smart, But Am I?’, Huffington Post, viewed 28 August 2014, < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-brown-hoffmeister/technology_b_1885650.html>
Kasunic, J. L. 2014, Hybrid by nature: Social and persuasive technologies, lecture, UTS, Sydney
Narayanan, A. 2013, ‘Society under threat…but not from AI’, AI & SOCIETY, vol. 28. no. 1, pp. 87-94
Ofcom 2011, ‘A nation addicted to smartphones’, Ofcom, viewed 28 August 2014, < http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/news/a-nation-addicted-to-smartphones/>
Rosen, L. 2013, ‘Game Changers But Not Brain Changers’, Huffington Post, viewed 28 August 2014, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-larry-rosen/game-changers-but-not-bra_b_3543201.html>