Mind Matters Where Natural and Artificial Intelligence Meet

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We need to be more honest about the addictive nature of the device, for some.
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Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle, an MIT social scientist who has spent thirty years studying people’s relationships with technology, finds that the immediacy of the digital culture is exacting a steep toll:

At home, families sit in silence at the dinner table. We text (and shop and tweet) during class and while on dates. At work, executives email during meetings. We’re connected more than ever; not necessarily to one another, but to our keyboards and touch screens. We seek and find ways around real, face-to-face-conversation.

Or, as a reviewer of her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015), put it,

You’re at the dinner table, or in a meeting, or at a baseball game, or in the classroom, or in your bedroom, or at a bar or, yes, in the bathroom — and you’re on your phone. You might be talking, but more likely you’re texting, posting, swiping, liking, tweeting, buying, browsing or, in my favorite metaphor of digital existence, “refreshing,” as though life’s staleness can be washed away with every new, fully realized screen. Carlos Lozada, “The book that will have everyone talking about how we never talk anymore” at Washington Post

None of this activity requires us to listen to the voices or study the faces of people sitting right in front of us. It is an escape from doing so.

Here are some bon mots from her book:

“In 1979 Susan Sontag wrote, “Today, everything exists to end in a photograph.” Today, does everything exist to end online?”

Well, maybe both. It could end online and inhabit cyberspace forever as a selfie. The term selfitis, which started out as ingroup humour among psychiatrists was officially recognized as the name for an obsession with selfies in 2017.

“Every time you check your phone in company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot, and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover, or co-worker just said, meant, felt.”

What they are getting is not a relationship but a hit of the stimulating neurotransmitter dopamine:

Dopamine can create a false sense of accomplishment. The Qualtrics study found that when Millennials are awake, they rarely go more than five hours without checking their phone, which is a sign of addictive behavior. Seventy-nine percent keep a phone nearby when they sleep, and half check their phone in the middle of the night. Scientists know what’s happening–it’s a sense of euphoria you feel when someone comments on your Instagram photo, but that’s not quite the same thing as landing a new job or getting a raise. John Brandon, “The Surprising Reason Millennials Check Their Phones 150 Times a Day” at Inc.

“It used to be that we imagined our mobile phones were there so that we could talk to each other. Now we want our mobile phones to talk to us.”

That’s characteristic of an addiction. Life revolves around an object or substance that erodes relationships:

About 48% of those who spent five or more hours a day on their phones—a lot of time by any measure—had thought about suicide or made plans for it, vs. 28% of those who spent only one hour per day on their phones. No other variables—like household financial issues, homework, or school pressure—could account for the rise in mental health issues over that time.

“Although we can’t say for sure that the growing use of smartphones caused the increase in mental health issues, that was by far the biggest change in teens’ lives between 2010 and 2015,” study author Jean Twenge said in a statement. Alice G. Walton, “Phone Addiction Is Real — And So Are Its Mental Health Risks” at Forbes

Phones don’t drive people to contemplate suicide but addictions do.

We need to be more honest about the addictive nature of the device, for some. A guy on a date is not checking his phone three times in ten minutes because the world outside the restaurant is changing that fast. He is in the grip of an addiction. At FiveThirtyEight, Katherine Hobson offers tips to break the addiction, including “just keeping the thing around less often.” If we can’t do that, for sure, we are addicted.

See also: AI is indeed a threat to democracy But not in quite the way historian Yuval Noah Harari thinks

and

Our anonymity may be an illusion Because we talk about ourselves so much online, few leaked pieces may even be required to identify us.