Your cell phone is poisoning you, just like it poisons me. And it’s time to give this problem the attention it deserves. The evolution and popularization of cell phones, which have already become permanent companions of a good part of the population, have brought with them profound changes, not only in the way we consume content, but also in how we interact with the world around us.
Yes, of course they have a huge number of advantages: they provide us with a permanent gateway to entertainment, allow us to have maps and routes updated almost in real time and facilitate banking transactions; even, very occasionally, we can even use them to talk on the phone. However, along with the positive points, there are negative effects that we overlook and they are getting worse.
Even Bill Maher knows it
On August 20, Bill Maher ended his episode of “Real Time” by criticizing Apple’s very dangerous decision to (literally) spy on all Apple-branded phones under the pretext of combating child pornography. Regardless of the nobility of the pretext put forward by Apple, the potential for abuse for spying of that scope would be immense and easily expandable to snatch private information from users related to anything else.
Maher, who has lately been one of the few sane voices in the industrialized press, then launched directly at the effects of excessive smartphone use, noting that “today’s phones make people assh***s” and absorb our attention more than any other device, including television and radio. In her words, “I looked forward to seeing ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ once a week, but it didn’t throw off my circadian rhythm.”
And he’s right.
We have become addicted to the cell phone and specifically to social media. I myself, as I dictate this paragraph am playing on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, with pay-to-win archery game and immediately after I will check if I have any new mention on Twitter, any new message on Facebook or any funny recommendation on TikTok, just like billions of other people.
Also just like them I spent the first 25 years of my life without a “smart” phone and didn’t need one. However, now I can’t go without my cell phone for more than 5 or 10 minutes, before I pick it up “to see if some important new news has happened” or “if there are any urgent messages”.
Perhaps you say the same thing to yourself, or some other phrase like that, because each of us invents our own story to turn on the screen; in the end they are pretexts in which we take refuge, while the phone becomes an endless abyss of procrastination that devours more and more of our time and attention span.
To this phenomenon of “entertainment” we must add that of aggressiveness and anguish.
First, there’s aggressiveness. By their very design, social networks encourage both the creation of ideological silos and hostility towards those outside them. Particularly in the case of Twitter, the very limitation in the number of characters makes it difficult to express nuances and rewards the most thunderous statements, making the most aggressive people more relevant.
This social phenomenon is not new and has been identified for a long time, for example, in public assemblies. However, its effects are now more intense than ever; after all, those who were carried away by the passion of a political speech or a popular assembly eventually had to go home and disconnect; today, instead, the assembly takes place inside the most seductive technological device in human history that we carry in our hands.
Second, there’s angst. Social networks transform all their users into public figures, some of whom achieve hundreds of millions of “followers” while others agonize with barely a dozen followers. For both, the cell phone could become the mechanism for validating their opinions and their value as individuals; it’s basically the stress of the high school prom, only permanent and with slightly more ridiculous choreography.
The resulting desire to be “popular” on the networks not only carries the risk of a depression crisis and even suicides (especially in teenagers) but can manipulate even the most influential politicians and businessmen to make decisions that look good in a tweet but are not appropriate in real life.
The effects of these bad decisions influenced by the pressure of social networks, which (yes, we must write it in capital letters) ARE NOT THE REFLECTION OF THE REAL OPINION OF SOCIETY, BUT THE DISTORTED ECHO OF A SPECIFIC SECTOR can be gigantic.
Your cell phone is poisoning you and even Facebook (too) knows it
In the same reflection, Bill echoed a statement by former Facebook vice president Chamath Palihapitiya: “The sort-term dopamine driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.”
And the truth is, it’s not surprising. Of course social media companies understand that their business is to keep the user connected as long as possible to their platform, and to this end they adapt the “algorithm” to make it as addictive as possible.
Sometimes they even go a step further, as in the case of TikTok, where to exit the application they ask for not one but two clicks on the “back” button of our cell phone. That extra click represents perhaps millions of extra views, for all the users who wanted to exit the app, but were too lazy to make the second click.
The uncomfortable truth is that both smartphones and social networks are designed not so much to provide a service, but to provide an addiction mechanism. They also look a lot like (even in their answers to Congress) what big tobacco companies did in the 20th century.
True, the digital giants don’t sell nicotine, but they do sell “dopamine-driven short-term feedback loops” and, like the tobacco companies, they are aware of the harm and addictive nature of their products.
Maybe your cell phone is not giving you cancer, as the urban legend said. However, your cell phone is indeed poisoning you and everyone else around you.