Monday, May 27, 2013

Smart Phones: Multitasking, Addiction And Depersonalization

Fr. Dale Matson

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, KJV)

Let me begin by saying that it is hard, often impossible to do two or more things at the same time. There are those who claim that they can multitask but no matter how young and nimble their minds, the various tasks performed concurrently diminish the quality of each. For example, many years ago, I discovered that talking on a cell phone while driving led to several wrong turns. It was counterproductive in the long run. I decided to pull over and talk. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Texting while driving is even worse since it is not just a mental distraction; the eyes are taken off the road also. How many traffic accidents have already been attributed to texting?

Unfortunately the negative distracting aspect of smart phones is even eclipsed by the obsessive and slavish addiction to the siren call of social networking. What is this about? Well, it’s all about ME. It’s as if the insatiable need for warm fuzzies and atta boys is an itch that gets scratched enough on places like Facebook that folks compulsively check in with all too much frequency. This can be on the average of “150 times per day or about once every six minutes.”

Could this be considered an addiction? DSM IV only requires three symptoms out of seven for a behavior to be considered addictive. My picks would be Preoccupation, Tolerance, Withdrawal, Escape and Damage to social relationships. Is it that people really want to remain in touch with others or the fear of not being included? What would be worse, a wallet left at a friend’s house or a smart phone? Is the smart phone an activity saved for down time or does it replace events in prime time? It’s like the TV commercial where someone is watching a sporting event during a friend’s wedding and impulsively yells out “No” at the wrong time. Has a smart phone enhanced relationships and communication or diminished them? I believe it is the latter. How do you feel when someone interrupts an important conversation with you to read a text from someone else? Maybe that is the modern signal for you to leave. It used to be someone glancing at their watch.

“"It's like an arms race … everything is an emergency," said Tanya Schevitz, spokeswoman for Reboot, an organization trying help people unplug more often. "We have created an expectation in society that people will respond immediately to everything with no delay. It's unhealthy, and it's unproductive, and we can't keep going on like this."

There is an invasion of space here and often we are complicit. Our skin was not designed to protect us from cyber intrusion. In professional venues, those who needed to be in continual radio contact could go “10-7”. That meant that they would be unavailable to respond to an attempt to contact them until they were “10-8” (back in service).  Is “10-7” an “App” available on smart phones?

Each of these social media venues is like an irresistible black hole. They are electronic monsters with tentacles that reach out to grab us one by one and pull us into their maws. For those who want recognition, they will get it in spades. Those advertisements popping up on the margins of a web search were tailor made just for them. In short, their life is no longer private. They can never go off the grid in an electronic age.

They are not really smart phones. They are dumb phones. People are not smarter, more attractive, more informed, more connected. More functionality is less simplicity. People are less private, more distracted and covertly entrapped. People are becoming self-centered voyeurs living in a virtual world that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Loss of privacy is not the worst danger in all of this. People may be gaining the world and losing their souls.    


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