As a constant fan of CBS Sunday Morning, I’m always intrigued to see what stories they are cooking up for the weekly magazine–I know, call me “O-L-D.” This week’s cover story focused on the Connected World’s obsession with smartphones. Ultimately, this piece asks the question that some of the more reflective (and unplugged) among us might be asking: in the most technologically advanced and connected society in history, are we isolating ourselves into silos?
This piece calls on experts like:
- MIT psychologistÂ Sherry TurkleÂ who just finished her bookÂ Alone Together.
- Nicholas Carr, the anti-tech apologist, Â makes a cameo in this piece. He famously wroteÂ The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our BrainsÂ in 2010. At that time, Carr made the circuit touting the speculation was that our brains were no longer capable of deep thought because of the instant and shifting focus required to use the web.
- Researcher Sergey GolitsynskiyÂ who just completed anÂ experimentÂ asking students to go 24 hours without using their smartphones for 24 hours, which resulted in 70% of the students quitting theÂ experiment.
- Dr. Gary Small, a UCLA neuroscientist, who actually shows the increased brain activity in an aging population by spending an hour a day online.
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Do you remember in the 90’s when Internet-AnonymousÂ recovery groups were all the rage? We are trained to see symptoms, and “tech-itis” is the latest diagnosis. I understand proceeding with caution…I’ve been to dinner parties where more people are texting each other than talking to one another. Families are suffering the same fate; this point is nicely illustrated in this cover of The New Yorker.
Before we throw the cell phone out with the soy latte, I want to think about some of the amazing benefits of this technology:
- Smartphones allow immediate access to exponentially more information than an average human can retain.
- Is rewiring my brain to be resourceful and not a repository suchÂ a bad thing?
- People are untethered from their offices and able to conduct business from virtually anywhere with only their phone.
- Armed with these pocket cannons, everyone can capture, share, upload vast amounts of before uncapturable information. In 1991 you had to have a VHS camcorder perched on your shoulder to pull that off, but the Rodney King video set off a revolution of public capture. In some ways, despite the freaky factor, this keeps us in check.
- The Arab Spring would not have happenedÂ but for smartphones, which allowed thousands of people to communicate in real time.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
I too “love” my iPhone, and I am drawn to the allure of its power. This power, however, does not mean that I can rewrite the rules of society. Etiquette is still a defining characteristic of this civilization. I have heard of several instances where (1) aÂ plaintiff’sÂ attorney attributed a major victory to not looking at his smartphone while the defense counsel missed a key piece of evidence because they were looking at smartphones; and (2) several cases where clients have fired their consultants because they never felt heard because the consultant was always checking email. Sure the temptation is there, but so is the temptation to eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts hot out of the glazing machine. A little discipline keeps temptation in check.
What are your thoughts? Are we better or worse off because of this technology? Can we control it, or does “it” control us?