Ruwandi Perera warns against the traps of smartphones

e-st-nov16Ever find yourself browsing Facebook, while having lunch at work? Yes, saving the wild tigers in India is important – and you must share it with as much emoticon as you can muster. But what about your co-worker, who is mulling over whether to text back that guy from the finance division, with whom she’s been secretly in love for months?

Our phones have become our best friends, at times, especially when we don’t know what to do with ourselves – like when we’re at a boring seminar, in supermarket queues or on Uber drives, and even during seemingly never-ending team meetings.

But what happens when it’s our constant companion, and when our companionship is needed by fellow human beings?

The power cuts we faced not so long ago left us literally in the dark. But amid those who longed for the power to resume, so they could get on with their digital lives, there were others who wished that outages occurred more frequently. Apparently, parents across Sri Lanka were said to have been quite content that their ‘power-less’ children were compelled to spend some quality family time!

Global studies have found that using a smartphone can offer us a sense of connectivity with others, and thus reduce our need to connect with those around with our presence. Ironically, instead of connecting, we are actually disconnecting, thanks to the false assurance that we are ‘in touch.’

Mobile phones have shrunk the world to the size of our palms; we are now more ‘connected’ than humans could have ever imagined a decade ago. Hearing your friend’s scream, as she skydives in Toronto, is wonderful; but when we do it at the expense of those who are with us, it is both unfair and rude.

Even when we’re not connected on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, today’s smartphones offer many ways to spend time alone. With interactive games, mobile journals, self-based apps, e-books and photo editors, we are never really alone… as long as our phones have sufficient battery power and a steady data connection.

However, this rather self-centred way of life has resulted in us avoiding all kinds of conversations, both physical and virtual. How many among us prefer texting to talking?

Experts say that not talking with people is detrimental to our well-being.

By not communicating (which is an activity that is three-dimensional, in full colour, real time and high resolution), we deny ourselves a core value of human survival. Sure, we are communicating with others digitally, but not in the way in which we’re biologically programmed.

Seeing all the activities of your friends as you scroll down your Facebook homepage can be engaging but equally depressing. This is especially so when you are stuck at home, working on an excel sheet, while your friends are sipping colourful cocktails on a beach. The gap between what others supposedly have and what you have can cause depression. It can increase our disconnection with the outside world.

Yet, for most of us with smartphones, it becomes increasingly difficult to not scroll down ‘one more time.’

Research reveals that some mobile users who are on social media suffer from a fear of missing out on activities that are lined up on their homepages. This creates the need for them to be constantly checking their phones – yes, even while they’re with other people, which results in them appearing selfish.

Another evil of mobile communication is that with texting, messaging and so on taking precedence over talking, the essence of two-way communication is lost. Texting can save time and money, and provide us with more control over what we want to say, and not say. In fact, many people believe that they can better express themselves via texts, than over phone conversations.

However, texting gives us an option to not reply; to disengage, if and when we feel like it. This is impossible when talking. Although this may be ideal when you are trying to shun that annoying office mate, it will impact you negatively when you are, in fact, actually conversing with someone face-to-face.

The world will not return to a ‘phoneless’ era, so it’s essential that we learn to live sensibly with this device that has become so much a part of our lives. Maintaining human relationships is essentially the core of all communications – be it verbal, digital or emotional. So being selfish, merely because we have technology in our palms, seems inhuman.

One wonders whether mobile phones have an impact on increasing divorce and suicide rates, and longer queues at psychologists and psychiatrists. After all, being alone or lonely is not very well received by our bodies, no matter what we may tell ourselves.