Where is your phone right now?
Mine is flashing next to my laptop as I write this, never too far away and always patiently waiting for me to over use it. I’m not the only one who feels like they’re on their smartphone too much, with 50% of teenagers admitting that they are probably addicted to their phones.
Shockingly, our handy digital helpers have only been around for 18 years, that is a shorter amount of time than most people have spent on this earth, yet they’ve managed to turn our lives inside out within a blink of a screen shot.
Like any 18-year-old, smartphones are fresh faced and doggedly shaking up our way of life. How much time we spend on them, the way they’ve changed our hobbies, what we view and read, how we search for information and communicate, and even our attention spans have been deeply affected by our clever devices. But the influence that smartphones could have, has the potential to become a lot deeper and weirder.
Through the looking glass
We type our thoughts, habits, conversations, relationships, passions, hatreds, careers, and hobbies into our screens. We use it as an extension of our own brains, to help store information, jog our memories and communicate.
You may think that we keep a lot from our phones, but it’s a lot less than you think. Smartphones aren’t just about apps or social media, they also monitor what you look for and how you use your phone when you are alone and left to your own devices. And all that information isn’t lost or static, it’s stored and, according to experts, gives each smartphone user a unique code or a digital personality.
It might also explain why we feel strange being away from our new best friends for too long or why we feel such a compulsion to use them as much as we do. We aren’t just addicted, we are also developing a symbiotic relationship with our phones.
Symbiotic smartphones might sound like one of the new Black Mirror episodes, but it’s actually something that is already happening to us. We might not yet put 100% of everything we think and feel into our phones, but we are relying so heavily on them that they are becoming our surrogate brains or at the very least an external hard drive for our thoughts and lives.
Relying on our phones to do what our brains are actually good at, means we are systematically using our brains less. Our cerebral supercomputers are being side-lined for an external device and experts are warning it could have an irreversible effect on how our brains work.
The smartphone revolution is moving so quickly that it is becoming a slippery beast, and the scope of information at our fingertips is enough to overwhelm and affect even the most ardent memories and those who still know how to focus.
Beam me up
And things aren’t going to stop there. Smartphones are already IoT enabled with software such as Siri, and so if you choose to have voice activation on your phone, it effectively listens out for keywords so that it can instantly react to your instructions. What if in the near future the likes of Siri become an obligatory function that stores your every conversation to predict how it can help you with your daily life and long-term goals?
Even weirder, what if smartphones could start recognising and recording our body language, all in the quest to become the dream personal assistant. Face recognition software is already a well-established tool that is used for passports, law enforcement and less serious apps. It isn’t a huge stretch to assume that one-day technology could also start to recognise body language and blur the line between us and our phones so much that the line won’t even matter anymore.
Cycle of Life
Everyone likes a happy ending, so you’ll be glad to hear that it isn’t all doom and gloom.
We always do the same thing when inventions change our way of life. We tend to go full throttle into a movement, panic and then end up finding a balance between the old and the new, and eventually even strengthen our roots with the old ways. Think chains vs. independent businesses, the industrial revolution vs. environmentalism, fast food vs. clean living, capitalism vs. ethical consumerism.
Technology’s opposite, physical engagement, will come back to the forefront, because our current relationship with our phones is unsustainable and because we always go back to our innate needs.
We can already see the tide starting to turn. Huge watchwords such a tech fatigue, digital detox and tech free days are storming their way through the smartphone clouds. We might still have our heads firmly stuck in the digital sand, but we will never be able to alter our need for physical interaction in the real world. And this intrinsic need will create a future where will hopefully find a much-needed balance between pouring ourselves into our digital soul mates and actively searching for those healthy and brilliant moments when we live completely free from our digital devices.
Sara is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She owns the commercial and creative content company Fraiche Ink, focusing on think pieces and marketing content.