I feel bad for the kids today who have been told that, after millions of years of human evolution, we’ve decided just in the last few years to make all human beings part of the hive mind.
Naturally this doesn’t affect older people as much. We grew up in the pre-digital or early-digital era. We grew up in a time when everyone didn’t have a powerful computer in his or her pocket, constantly beckoning for attention. We learned how to have one conversation at a time. So maybe “focused” is not the first word you would pick to describe some of us, but still, we had it relatively easy, because we didn’t feel the need, when reading a book, or watching a sunset, or weeding the garden, to respond to every vibration of the computer that connects us to the hive mind.
Kids today are part of a running conversation. That’s what Facebook is, and what Twitter is: An endless stream of connectedness. And human beings, we can say with some assurance now, prefer more connectedness to less connectedness. But I’d suggest that there are consequences to this that haven’t fully played out. Just at the psychological level, I’m not sure it’s healthy to be so connected all the time. Or practical. When do you ever have a chance to hear your own thoughts?
I hope you saw my daughter Shane Achenbach’s essay on all this, which ran Tuesday in the paper. Shane is 16, a senior in high school, and she braved a week without her iPhone and lived to tell the tale, which I’m pasting in below (Shane you recall recently wrote about FB in a blog item here.)
By Shane Achenbach
I just spent a week without one of the most important things in my life. It’s something that I never go anywhere without, that I talk to when I’m lonely, that I stare at for hours upon end, day after day. It’s there for me when my friends are not. It never argues with me or makes me feel bad about myself. I love it dearly and I can make it tell me that it loves me, too.
In the past few years, the idea of an iPhone addiction has solidified. In China and Taiwan, doctors are diagnosing conditions like iPhone syndrome and iPhone addiction disorder. More widespread (and something I suffer from myself) is phantom vibration syndrome, in which people feel their phone vibrating when it isn’t.
In a Stanford University study, 75 percent of respondents slept with their iPhones next to them in bed, and 94 percent confessed to having a certain level of addiction to their iPhones. Teenagers send 60 text messages per day, on average, according to other research.
The American Psychiatric Association mentions Internet addiction disorder as a possible addition to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“The current incarnation of the Internet — portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive — may be making us not just dumber or lonelier, but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic,” writes Newsweek’s Tony Dokoupil.
When I got my iPhone last June, I was very, very happy. I had pined over the product for months, sick of my LG and its sticky keys and its tendency to shut off without warning.
From the start, my iPhone and I hit it off. We went everywhere together, Instagramming days in the park and playing Subway Surfer on the Metro. The phone hardly left my hand, and I liked it that way.
But for people around me, this was irritating. My friends and family often accused of me being addicted — a “slave to the iPhone.”
When a friend jokingly challenged me to one week without my phone, I questioned whether I would be able to do it. I realized that I needed to prove that I could live in a world without iPhones. So the next night I shut it off, hid it in a drawer and began my phoneless week.
Deciding to do it was probably the hardest part of the whole experiment. It’s not that I was scared, but I was unhappy about it. I expected the week to be boring, slow and frustrating at times, especially when trying to get in contact with people.
But this was not the case. My week went by surprisingly smoothly. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that hard, either. I liked that nobody could contact me and that I wasn’t in touch unless I wanted to be. I didn’t have to worry about forgetting to respond to a text message or calling someone back. It was relaxing to never have to make plans with people. I felt sort of serene and unique, off the grid.
It also helped me be productive in some aspects. During lunch, I would sometimes stay on campus at my high school and work just because I didn’t know where my friends were. I paid attention in class more (not stealthily checking my phone or thinking about checking it) and went to bed earlier instead of staying up doing things on my phone for hours. And while doing homework, I couldn’t get distracted by a text or a call.
This is not to say that the week was super awesome and I am going to throw my phone in the trash can because of it. It was annoying never to know what time it was, and never to be able to pull out my phone and pretend to text in order to look cool while standing alone in a public place. In the mornings, I had to wake up to an obnoxious buzzer rather than music from my iTunes library.
The worst part of my whole experience was realizing that I really am addicted to my phone. One study described Internet addicts as those using the Internet an average of 38 hours per week for nonacademic or non-employment purposes. These days, most people accumulate that many hours before Wednesday. When I have my phone with me, I check it literally every five minutes. This is something that I didn’t even realize until I stopped using it altogether.
So here’s my final take-away: I’m going to spend more time in the real world and less bonding with my phone.