Cell phones can be addictive. This is not fake news.
More and more we are learning that cellphone addiction is real, not just perception. That reality, we now know, is by design, not just a by-product of popularity.
Techies are telling us of their own complicity in creating the “persuasive designs” that modify behavior by smartphone users. Corporate executives express a desire to make a change. But the business model that depends on advertising revenues runs afoul of averting the problem. And consumers value the connectedness and productivity that the mobile revolution has made possible.
Responses to the problem have been wide-ranging. Individuals devise their own ploys, as when restaurant-goers put all their phones on the table and agree that the first one to reach for it has to pay for everyone’s meal. Companies have spent countless billable hours devising policies for appropriate use of social media.
Now schools are getting into the act. The French government is set to ban the use of phones by students “as a public health message to families.” Catholic schools closer to home are instituting similar restrictions on screen time, as a consequence of their mission to form a young person’s soul.
New technology is coming to the rescue, too. Yondr offers an easy means to create a phone-free space. Users entering a school, courtroom, hospital or other venue can lock away the distraction in a patented pouch that can only be opened when one exits the premises.
True addictions are disorders that require intervention. The minds and souls of the young do need overwatch for the sake of healthy formation. And every social gathering would benefit from the absence of annoying interruptions.
But the problem of distractedness is personal, not technological. In the adult world, at least, solutions to individual irresponsibility are not found in policies that circumscribe behavior for all.
For parents and educators, as well as leaders and legislators, teaching responsibility may be the toughest task of all. Yet as a society it’s also our most important. Accomplishing it requires the coupling of a respect for freedom and the cultivation of intentionality. It entails a tireless process of setting clear expectations for how people should act with and toward one another, and then applying consistently the consequences of transgressing the set standards.
Choices need to be made – by us, not for us. When it comes to being “smart” with one’s phone, some choices are simple, like turning off notifications or deleting apps that are too easy to access. But to become smart as a person, the choices are more complex. Learning to make good choices is a life-long lesson.
We live in a digital world. There technology offers a trove of personal and professional treasures (along with potential dangers). There the “natives” are increasingly adept at multi-tasking (though it’s really switch-tasking). There behavior can be engineered (in directions bad or good for us).
To find our way in this digital world, as in every other age, we need to teach responsibility and to learn intentionality. Spending time well is within our reach, but it cannot be coerced.
featured image of Yondr from theaustralian.com.au