Is Mobile Technology Making Us Anxious?

Mobile technology has cured boredom; there’s no doubt about that. Between checking emails, logging into each of your Social Networking Sites to check for updates and notifications, using any of the millions of apps and games, anyone with a smart phone, tablet, or ereader on them is going to be constantly stimulated, never suffering from those boring waits we all hate. Sounds great, right?

Think about it: when you’re stuck in the waiting room of your doctor’s office, enter a long line at the store, have 30 minutes until the next bus comes, find yourself with a few seconds before class starts, or even just make it to the restaurant before the friend you’re meeting…How long does it take you to pull out your phone (or tablet, ereader, etc.)? My bet is it happens pretty fast. For most of us, it’s second-nature.

In fact, I was amazed when I went through Customs last weekend, a strict no-cell-phone-zone, how many people—including myself—were tempted to ignore the rules and persistent nagging from officers to “put away your phones.”

What, besides intense boredom, are we robbing ourselves of with these quick-fixes of stimulation? First, reflection. By filling every gap of time between our daily activities, we spend less and less time looking back what we’ve done—unless of course you’re recounting your day for the purposes of that Facebook status or tweet. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone journal. Reflection can also apply to our lessons or what we witness happening around us. Another underrated time-filler: observation. When you’re on your cell phone between destinations, how likely are you to remember how you got there or what you saw on the way? Or maybe you just need to zone-out; that’s often the source of many great ideas. It sounds simple, yes, but maybe our mind deserves this break from technology.

Without a doubt, these technologies have enabled us to utilize these previously “wasted minutes” by keeping up on emails, news, and work, which is one of their greatest advantages. But does that mean we now feel compelled to fill every second of our day with such things? What’s wrong with sitting and essentially doing nothing for fifteen minutes? I can’t even remember the last time I did.

Sometimes this problem transcends even occupying boredom. Jazmyn brought up texting and driving; surely there is adequate mental stimulation while driving that we aren’t so bored we are forced to get on our phones?! What about those people, or maybe friends you have, who are on their phones for no apparent reason while you’re hanging out? Assuming they aren’t merely bored with you, why do they do it?

This makes me wonder if we are truly denying ourselves that mental rest I mentioned previously, or if to some extent, we are incapable. The ability to instantly satisfy our boredom with smart phones or tablets has made us used to constant stimulation. Social Networking Sites and unlimited texting have made us used to always having that connection with our friends, as mentioned in The Human Connection.

Is this baseline of stimulation causing us to feel anxious without it? Are we bothered by that unfilled time? What do you guys think?

8 responses to “Is Mobile Technology Making Us Anxious?

  1. I found your blog post absolutely fascinating (probably because it correlated with mine :])! You brought up some really fascinating points and raised some pretty important issues! First and foremost, I completely agree with you that technology has totally robbed us of any free time that we used to have. Our society is completely consumed by technological devices, and personally, I feel like I cannot go more than five minutes without using technology. Of course, this is my own doing, but why have i done this to myself? I think that I have done this because of the societal fear of not being connected. What happens if we miss an important update? What happens if we miss a text message or a phone call? Because of this constant fear, you’re right, we do not have time for reflection. Our brains are slaves to technology.

    Secondly, I am also guilty of constantly using my phone when I am with my friends and family. It is sad that we cannot even get disconnected to be with the people we are closest to. Recently, I saw this idea that friends use when they hang out at each other’s houses. Everyone puts their phone in a basket by the front door so that they end up spending time with each other instead of spending time on their phones. Also, I saw a restaurant game that friends play that keeps them focused on the company that they’re with instead of their social network. This game requires everyone to put their phone in the middle of the table when they get to the restaurant. Whoever touches their phone first has to pay for the whole meal. Games like these encourage people to be connected with the people they’re with instead of their digital persona.

  2. I agree that technology is taking the place of once “free time.” Our society is completely driven by technology, and the need to keep up with whatever is being posted and important right that second. When I turn off my phone to charge it, or just turn it off, I always wonder, as jazled mentioned, if I am going to miss a call or text message. Why this thought even crosses my mind indicates that we as a society are driven by the constant need to be in touch with each other every second of every day.

    As far as using a phone while waiting in line, on public transportation, or in the few minutes before class starts, it is essentially the same as twirling your hair, tapping, your foot, and other annoying time filling habits we subconsciously develop. With the invention of smartphones, we can check our texts, email, and social media within just a few seconds. However, using our phones like this takes away from the physical world around us, even a potential conversation we could have with someone around us. Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had have been on the subway in both New York and London. While the majority of the people riding were on their phones, I would learn about life in these great cities, hear of the greatest restaurants and little known attractions, and further immerse myself in the unique culture these cities had to offer.

    I thought you had an interesting point about using our phones while with our friends. I too, find myself wondering the same thing, if I am so boring that they need to be on their phones to bring them out of that bored state. Not too long ago at my church they asked us to place our phones in a basket as we enter; that way we can focus on the people surrounding us and have genuine conversations without the distraction of our phones. Surprisingly, this has been incredibly successful, and stepping away from my phone for an hour or so every week is actually rather refreshing.

  3. It would be nice to see some research on how pervasive this sort of tech addiction has become. I definitely know some people who have this problem, but they’re the exceptions. I have a smartphone, but I almost never use it to kill time. My friends all have smartphones too, and almost none of them do this kind of thing. If we’re hanging out and someone’s on their phone too much, it’ll get taken away. It’s just not cool to be constantly plugged into a gadget. Although, I kinda live under a rock, so maybe everyone really is hopelessly addicted to smartphones and I just don’t notice.

  4. Two points you made that I particularly agree with are that cell phones make it easy for us to avoid reflection and observation. It seems strange that we would WANT to avoid these things when our own minds and the world around us are actually much more fascinating than any text we might have. Thinking is a lot of work, though, and I’m know I’m not alone in sometimes wanting to just fill the time with a mindless game on my iPhone instead.

    However, I’ve been making an active effort this semester to spend less time online and on my cell phone, and it has done wonders. For example, I have time to reflect on what I’ve learned in my classes, and this mental review has given me noticeably higher retention of the material. For once, I’m actually thinking critically about my readings and applying them to my life, instead of simply memorizing the content for exams and then forgetting it again.

    Another example, as you mentioned, is that I’ve had time to observe my surroundings. One of the most relaxing activities for me is to sit and watch my environment for a few minutes, and now that I’m experiencing this relaxation again, I’m amazed I’ve been depriving myself of it since getting an iPhone.

    It’s difficult to understand exactly why we do this to ourselves, and it probably also varies by person. Some people might be busybodies who feel they can’t take a break; some people, as Jazmyn mentioned, might fear social disconnection; some people might just find any free time immensely boring.

  5. Self reflection is a skill that many of us seem to lack, and I agree that technology is an easy escape from the horrors of finding out more about yourself through conscious thought. It really is ironic in a way – “I’m going to post about my life on Facebook without actually learning anything about myself!” It seems that too many people neglect developing their real life persona because they can express themselves virtually – which is much more convenient.
    This comes into play often in the dorm life experience. I can remember at least a dozen recent occurrences of there being over six people in my dorm room – each doing something on their laptops and not saying a word. This is usually where I either close mine, or yell “laptop party!” and watch everyone look up, suddenly conscious of the real world. It is a bit frightening how easy it is to get sucked up into the information displayed on the screen in front of you instead of paying attention to what is actually going on. Life isn’t as cool as the internet, unfortunately.
    While media can provide a non-stop source of entertainment and information, it comes at a cost, as described in the article: when one is accustomed to this “baseline of stimulation,” losing it can result in a listless boredom and loss of direction. Real life experience isn’t a constant – major life changes come in waves, all at one time – and if we are looking at our phones when they happen, we may be in for a nasty shock.

  6. I think this addiction/dependence upon technology says a lot about where our priorities lie. For many, sending a text message is more valueable than full attention to the road. For others, posting a status update is more important than conversing with a friend or loved one.

    Why are we this way? I don’t exactly know. Is it that we’re selfish and self-absorbed? Or maybe it’s simply that we’re deceived into believing that technology satisfies needs in ways superior to all other things.

  7. For myself, I hate wasting time. Thanks to technology and the fact that I can bring my laptop and cell phone where ever I go, I think that it enables me to use my time better. I think there is always something I can do to pass the time and sometimes it is Facebook, but isn’t that important too? I mean I know that too much of anything can be bad, but Facebook allows people to connect with people at any time, whether it is 15 minutes that you have between class, or 15 minutes once you get home. It is weird to think, however, what I did with my time prior to having these technologies…

  8. Pingback: New Tech, Ungrateful Kids | SOC334 Technology and Society

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