Kara Alaimo: The iPhone is a revolutionary product that's changed our lives, in many ways for the worse
She identifies seven downsides to the smartphone, including our detachment from lived reality and relationships
Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. For hundreds of millions of us, this device – just 4 ounces when introduced – has come to dominate our lives. Now we can find seemingly any answer to anything with a few taps of the thumb and forefinger. Everything from dinner to a date is now just a click away, and you can procure both of those while simultaneously talking on a conference call – and riding the train, of course.
But as with every revolution, something or somebody loses. Yes, there is darker side to how the iPhone – and its smartphone copycats – have changed us.
In fact, here are seven ways they’re making our lives less great:
1. They’re bad for our brains. IPhones allow us to do many things at once. But studies show that media multitaskers—that is, for example, those of us who are simultaneously listening to music, playing TypeShift – think more slowly and have worse long-term memory, because they find it harder to filter out irrelevant information. Focusing on many things on our phones at once actually diminishes our cognitive abilities.
2. While we’re busy on our phones, we’re ignoring the world around us. While singles are busy swiping on Tinder, they’re missing out on the people sitting next to them on the subway. And as MIT professor Sherry Turkle notes in her book “Alone Together,” because we’re so conditioned to check our phones all the time, many people can no longer appreciate a lake, beach or hike. “Stillness makes them anxious,” she writes.
3. We’re also ignoring one other. Today, Turkle observes, “we ask less of people and more of technology.” Look around you at the playground, the shopping center, the multiplex, on the train platform, and at the Olive Garden: kids are missing out on the attention they need from parents, who are now constantly distracted on their phones (and parents are missing out on what’s really going on in their children’s lives as the kiddies quietly text friends in the back seat of the car). As for the rest of us, we lose out on real conversations with our partners while they’re checking incoming emails at dinner.
4. They’re ruining our relationships. The kinds of relationships we maintain on our phones are generally shallow. Turkle notes that we text people instead of calling now, giving up deeper conversations involving emotions that can’t be conveyed through emojis or LOLs. Social media relationships also tend to be superficial, fueled by likes and quick comments rather than the kinds of private, detailed conversations you’d have over coffee with a close friend. Since the overwhelming majority of Facebook users access the social network on their mobile devices, it’s safe to say that here, too, the iPhone is a culprit. One study found that people with a higher proportion of online interactions were lonelier than those with more in-person interactions. And a study of Facebook users in Australia found that they felt significantly less bonded with their families.
5. They promote FOMO (“fear of missing out”) syndrome. iPhones make it possible to check social media constantly. Of course, our social media profiles make our lives look better than they really are. We post our shiniest vacation or “night-out” photos (with the most flattering filters) and descriptions of our professional victories, not shots of the dull work spaces where we spend most of our days. But research shows that social media users are more likely to compare what they’ve achieved with that of others. It’s easy for people to feel left out and unhappy when measuring the sparkly shots of their friends’ best moments against the mundaneness of their own lives.
6. We have come to need constant validation. Turkle notes that, “in the psychoanalytic tradition, one speaks about narcissism not to indicate people who love themselves, but a personality so fragile that it needs constant support.” These days, people constantly check the number of “likes” they get on Facebook to validate their popularity, wittiness and worth – instead of measuring themselves by inner values, integrity and goals.
7. We’re expected to be available for work 24-7. Even on once-sacred airline flights, it’s now usually possible to connect to Wi-Fi. Now there are fewer and fewer spaces and times when it’s possible and appropriate to be offline. Colleagues often expect instantaneous responses; I’ve responded to mine from the ladies’ room and the emergency room. Sometimes we’re woken up by texts and calls from our partners’ colleagues, too.
As we look back on all the ways Apple has made our lives easier, let’s also remember what they can’t give us: the sensation of sunshine on our faces, the relief of talking through a problem with a physical friend, the feel of a hug from someone we love. There still aren’t apps for that.