Taken hostage by your phone?

March 8, 2022

My phone is a wrong'un

How do you get on with your smartphone? Asking for a friend! I don’t have a great time with mine. I’d go as far as to say that the relationship is abusive? My phone spies on me, controls me, and often lies to me. I have known about this for years. We keep breaking up, but I always slink back; head bowed into its self- satisfied embrace.

The break up dance

As I write this again, I have veered into over use and we must go through a separation again. A dance through the stages of tolerance, dependence, addiction and withdrawal only to be followed by relapse a while later. Today, I’m at the cusp of withdrawal again.. girding myself for the pain of separation.

Why do I find it so hard to stay clean?... Why the doom scrolling of news and comment? Why the Instagram posts? Why the need to read articles on “how to break up with your phone”?  

Over the years, I have discussed this topic with my friends.  They usually meet it with indifference. I feel like the only person who either has the problem or sees it for what it is. A time waster, a purpose killer, and something more sinister than its chirpy and colourful countenance would suggest.

A day of moderate usage for me is a regrettable 2 hours. Some of it is legitimate and concurrent - a podcast or audiobook - maybe using a productivity app such as Todoist, but mostly it is just looking at mindless crap. There is always something to outrage or captivate me.

Is the answer a Nokia 3310?

I know this has to end. And I know there is only one way to do it. A Nokia 3310, But can one navigate modern life with such a blunt weapon?

Recently, I learned about the dopamine detox - Dan Johnson recommends we give it a go. His reductive, but useful explanation, is to pick a weekend and be as bored as possible. I had read about these detoxes, but they were always debunked, with no science behind it. Having done it 3 months ago - I disagree, they offer enormous value. At the end of 48 hours, with no phone and no technology, the mind is clear and focused in a way that you will not have experienced in years. But as a warning, little-by-little, the digital distractions sneak back into your life. As technology becomes more immersive, it is only going to get harder to disconnect.

If you tolerate this ...our children will be next

We, at least, have a chance, but what about our children? How do you tell a 14-year-old they can’t have a phone? Yes, in theory it is possible, but it will become a long-term war of attrition. In my daughter’s life I can see how it brings connection with her friends, but she is like a pavlovian dog springing into action at the slightest alert or vibration. It is social death to leave a message unread for too long.  

On this blog I talk about purpose, connection and community and I fear that digital distraction is damaging us along with the next generation.

A recent article jolted me

“Those girls who are happiest live in families where online socialising is severely curtailed. Many families I know have implemented a rule whereby all devices must go on charge as they sit down for dinner – and nobody goes near them until the next day. The change in family relationships is remarkable – and that includes the adults.

They talk more, sleep better, and are more playful and relaxed. School and work, with all their associated terrors, are not part of being at home. It might sound draconian, but sometimes in life we have to wield the sword. “

The article explains about how we were built to function within an extended family, which would circle the wagons against a common enemy. Often this no longer happens and the hundreds of digital bonds that exist are only fleeting and they don’t have your best interests at heart. - in fact, the digital arena is set up to be combative and competitive. No wonders so many of our young people feel hopeless and nihilistic.

Harder to function in society without a smartphone

Technology and our smart phones, if used correctly, can be a great boon, but for 90% of the time we use them unthinkingly. The genie is out of the bottle. It is barely possible to function in society without them. Interaction with government and business demands it. A brief example in the UK we have been told that phone will be the primary way we will access our health service in the future. I imagine this will develop to requiring a unique digital ID, to which other services will be appended. Some sort of mobile screened technology will be the primary method of consumption and engaging with the surrounding environment.

Big Tech knows you better than you know yourself

It is not a conspiracy to state the bald fact that Big Tech mines data from their customers, building up a high resolution impression of the individual. They know us better than we know ourselves - The brightest thinkers in the world are warning us that the people who own the data will shape the future.  The people who own the algorithms and the artificial intelligence will either persuade us, coerce us and if we don’t obey, eventually switch us off. People have often said of tech that “we are the product” - but I have heard it described better, that we are the fuel. We are being consumed and the rate of burn is being controlled to suit people who care less about us.

We don’t realise it yet, and even if we do, we don’t quite know what action to take. A dystopian future awaits. Trapped and in thrall to our devices, they manipulate our emotions and thinking through carefully crafted stories and posts. They divide us - no longer is there room for nuance - you are either “yes” or “no”. For all the latest things, or against them. We all know our talking points, whatever side of the fence we fall on.

Every kingdom divided against itself will fall. If we continue along this road, a dangerous future awaits us.

Humans can be hacked

Humans have now been hacked through manipulated fear and outrage. We can be shaped and directed and our phones are the media of change. There is a loss of freewill. Atomised and conditioned, we respond reflexively to beeps and buzzes, approbation and rejection. I often wonder if it is some dark force or just the outworking of the algorithm - the first suggests malevolence which is possible. The other could be an agnostic servant, giving us what our corrupted and fallible frames demand. A magnification of our flaws that causes us to miss the mark by a wider margin each time. I’m inclined to think it might be a bit of both.

"The algorithm...an agnostic servant, giving us what our corrupted and fallible frames demand. A magnification of our flaws that causes us to miss the mark by a wider margin each time."

Parting shot

The technology in our hands is more addictive and powerful than we give it credit for. There is a battle for our minds and souls and the smart phone may be the trojan horse.

We think we are pulling the strings, but really it is gaslighting and controlling us.

Further development and immersive technology will take us further and deeper into a land we don’t really want to visit - but its siren call will draw us in.

The promise of progress is always emancipation. The reality resembles bondage.