Hooked on phones: Hidden costs of our digital addiction

Farhan Khokhar and Fazal Masood Malik, Canada

Four decades on from Martin Cooper’s pioneering mobile phone call, our devices have evolved from bulky to nearly boundless. The journey from Motorola’s DynaTAC in 1984, through BlackBerry’s entry into the smartphone market, to the revolutionary all-screen iPhone in 2007, mirrors our own transformation. We’ve integrated the smartness and portability of these devices into every facet of daily life, effectively eliminating the constraints of time, place, and access to information.

Yet, this connection comes at a cost. Smartphones, intended as tools of unity, have instead fostered a pervasive disconnection. They encourage divergent realities where two people, side by side, experience worlds apart, transfixed by their private digital realms. The technology, for all its benefits, subtly undermines the very fabric of our social interactions. Proximity no longer guarantees intimacy; instead, our phones often place invisible walls between us, making us distant despite being physically close.

The societal toll is palpable. In homes, digital orphans are born as parents lose themselves in virtual worlds, neglecting family bonds. Marital strains surface over digital indulgences. At work, productivity suffers as employees split their focus between tasks and their devices, often encouraged by workplace cultures that validate constant connectivity. In academic settings, the distraction is equally pervasive, with students lost to endless messaging and social media refreshments during lectures.

This chronic digital distraction cultivates deeper personal afflictions – increased anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness – as our minds, unmoored, fail to find respite from the digital onslaught. The fear of missing out haunts us, leaving real relationships to wither as authentic interactions diminish. Further compounding these issues is the phenomenon of vicarious trauma, magnified by our smartphones. Constant exposure to global distress and sensationalised news via our devices leaves us grappling with secondhand suffering, a serious psychological burden we discussed in December. This relentless digital engagement not only frays our nerves but also erodes our emotional resilience, layering trauma upon the everyday stresses of digital life.

The calls for restricted usage of cellphones is growing in the UK. In Canada, the provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario have begun legislating against the tide, restricting phone use in classrooms to curb distractions and foster a healthier learning environment. These measures reflect a growing recognition of the need for boundaries, as detailed in reports of improved focus and engagement in schools enforcing smartphone bans. (“Ontario Cracking Down on Cellphone Use”, news.ontario.ca)

Meanwhile, a curious phenomenon – phantom vibrations – illustrates our deep neurological entwinement with these devices. (“Prevalence of Tactile Hallucination of Phone Vibration”, www.aseanjournalofpsychiatry.org) This sensation, where individuals feel their phone vibrating when it is not, highlights the psychological imprint left by constant connectivity. It’s a stark reminder of our brains’ rewiring to anticipate and react to non-existent alerts from our phones.

Beyond individual consequences, society bears the brunt of this addiction through lost productivity and escalating medical costs associated with digital negligence. The ambient electromagnetic radiation from our devices looms as a new health concern, reminiscent of second-hand smoke, with its full impacts yet to be fully understood.

Today, as we once grappled with the severe addictions spurred by Big Tobacco and the gambling industry, we confront a new but equally formidable adversary in the digital age. Like the cigarettes of the past, smartphones have become our era’s addictive vice, difficult to quit and pervasive in their reach. The behemoths of Big Tech engineer these compulsive ecosystems with precision, not only monetising our data and attention but doing so at a grave cost to our societal well-being The smartphone is our era’s cigarette – and just as hard to quit. These digital platforms, designed to hook users and keep them engaged, are akin to the nicotine of the 21st century – ubiquitous, addictive, and detrimental to our health.

Amid this expanding digital expanse, the few who resist appearing as anachronistic holdouts, their rejection is a stark contrast to the mass digital assimilation. Yet, their solitude underscores the profound extent of our collective enthrallment. Perhaps only a bold “mobile emancipation” can restore the balance, freeing us from the grip of our 21st-century digital overlords.

As this smartphone mania balloons, even those rejecting the digital life gain attention. This exemplifies a rising countermovement that calls for a return to less tethered, more mindful modes of living. This collective reevaluation of our digital habits could be pivotal in reestablishing the much-desired human connection, which is being eroded by our screen-saturated existence.

For the religiously inclined, a digital detox akin to the abstinence practised during Lent or Ramadan could provide a much-needed respite from our devices, allowing us to reconnect with the world and ourselves in a more meaningful way.

No posts to display