Do we use our smartphones or do they use us? This question is at the centre of research undertaken by several experts in the fields of sociology and psychology who, for over ten years, have been investigating the way in which the latest generation phones have changed our lives.
The situation has certainly taken a completely different direction to that envisaged by early smartphone producers. In fact, the smartphone was originally conceived as a sort of assistant. Nowadays, it is fair to say that we are slaves to our phones.
To illustrate this point, let us consider the constant attention that these devices demand, thanks to the high number of notifications. Social networks and instant messaging apps have made us accustomed to an immediate answer and being able to share our friends’ feelings in real time via ‘likes’ or shocked reactions.
How the smartphone has changed our lives
Several scientific studies on human behaviour have explored how, in recent years, smartphones, originally designed to optimise performance during certain important activities, have in fact created new ones. These new tasks require users to devote more and more time to them, but do not provide any real benefit for final users.
In order to appreciate how much things have changed, let us consider that the original project for the phones we now hold was designed for listening to music, making calls and receiving directions. In the mid-2000’s, the early years of the mobile revolution, app stores did not yet exist.
The latest generation phones, despite objectively being very innovative, were created as instruments, the use of which was controlled by the owner, who could decide when and how to use the device. That is completely different to today’s scenario, in which the telephone has become our constant companion throughout the day.
Solutions to combat smartphone addiction
Now that smartphone use is among the new addictions of the hyper-connected age, several important members of the scientific community have been wondering how to resolve the situation. Some have proposed drastic solutions, such as a return to the traditional cell phone. Another proposal worthy of mention is the re-formatting of the device’s functions.
Those in favour of the latter idea suggest that all apps which make a profit out of the users’ attention, such as those linked to social networks, should be eliminated. Another suggestion for those wishing to beat smartphone addiction, consists of eliminating news apps which clog up the screens of our devices with pointless notifications.
Supporters of this approach point out that, apart from those working as journalists or financial brokers, we do not need to be constantly informed of what is happening around the world. As far as social networks are concerned, the view is that friends, if genuine, can wait a few hours for a reply.
Some people also believe that it is possible to avoid checking work emails on our smartphones. Of course, everyone agrees that it is convenient to be able to reply to messages when out and about, but this convenience often goes hand in hand with an obsessive checking for new messages.
In any case, it is fundamental to investigate the cause of the problem. Very often the smartphone is used as an escape valve during moments of anxiety or anger. By focusing on these emotional impulses, it becomes easier to overcome them and avoid turning to the smartphone as a way to combat our private malaise.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith