Current Issue #488

Modern Times:
Kicking our smartphone habit

Deleting Instagram and Facebook from an iPhone

The most socially destructive modern addiction may not be the usual vices like drugs or gambling.

The impact of certain afflictions is immediately evident. Mobile phone addiction, on the other hand, is insidious. It may not be immediately apparent, but the corrosive effect on social interactions is real.

Few have resisted the seductive nature of this hand-held addiction. An epidemic is limited to a particular people in a certain area, but the mobile phone is the socially acceptable opiate of the masses. Culturally indiscriminate, it may be the most common addiction in world history. I am an addict, and I guess you are too.

When Banksy used spray paint to mock lovers distracted by their phones, it captured the absurdity of this modern obsession. This obsession is detrimental to close relationships: our lovers, our children, our family, our pets.

The gaze of mobile phones has replaced real social interactions. How often do you ignore your partner or child because of the siren emanating from your phone? The unconscious decision to preference remote friends or strangers over intimate, present relationships is not rational. It is the product of addiction.

This addiction can harm more than social interactions with our intimates. It also provides a safe distance from which all manner of hurt can be caused. Cyber bullying is now prevalent among school children.

All forms of bullying are bad, but this new dimension makes it easier to exert psychological trauma, more often, from a safe distance, and sometimes from behind a screen of anonymity. Few argue this has been a positive development. The problem, having festered for years, has now led to moves by some to address the social impact of our addiction to mobile phones.

Blennerville is a town in County Kerry, Ireland. Teachers at a local school believed mobile phone use was the source of conflicts between students. Teachers and parents worked together to instigate an 11 week trial, during which students could no longer access their phones.

Students initially struggled with the abrupt cessation of the source of their addiction, but after an initial period of grieving, positive change was apparent. Relationships between peers improved, as did class dynamics and engagement in activities in and out of school. By the end of the 11-week program, parents reported that interactions in the home had improved, and children had replaced their unhealthy obsession with social media with healthier physical activities.

The football department at Port Adelaide Football Club, too, has moved to address the impact of mobile phone addiction. The group believes mobile phones are a barrier to genuine personal relationships. Players are encouraged to ignore their phones when together, when preparing for training, sharing a meal together, or travelling interstate and overseas.

The impact of this addiction may be subtle but it is broad. It can only be addressed through constant reflection and action. Within the home, a conscious effort to remove phones from family spaces or family times may improve the quality of relationships.

The remedy begins with identifying a problem. The unhealthy obsession with our phones may be the great modern addiction.

Andrew Hunter

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