Pros and Cons of Our Smartphone Addictions

  • 6 July 2016
  • sjanicke

In lieu of this weeks’ Independence Day I contemplated about the role that independence plays for our interactions with technologies and I came to the conclusion that it is a double-edged sword.

Pro's of Technology in Our Lives

On the one hand, the apps on our phones and the ever faster-developing devices that we wear on our wrists or heads provide us with the freedom and independence to manage our lives in a more efficient and convenient way.

For example, with Amazon Prime Now  we can now get our groceries delivered to our doorstep within 2 hours. The possession of a wallet became obsolete with Apple Pay, so does owning an alarm clock, camera, or remote control. With apps like Asana or Slack  we can streamline our workflow with colleagues; with Wunderlist  we can create and collaborate on any form of To-Do-List, groceries or otherwise; with SaneBox we can manage our email overload; with UnrollMe we can filter out our junk mail; with Lumolift we can practice sitting upright; Thync gives us an energy boost when we most need it by stimulating our brain waves and with UeberEats we can have our hipster kale, quinoa, lime salad delivered right to our desk at work. We may even Grubhub an extra ice-cream because of the additional miles we slaved away on that walking desk we now have installed at work.

Together, these tools definitely provide us with greater independence and more freedom to manage our time more efficiently, make our lives more convenient, less stressed, more healthy and maybe even happier.

Con's of Technology in Our Lives

However, this apparent independence does not come without a cost. One is the constant reinforcement of instant gratification. To have what we wish for at our fingertips we become slaves to instant gratifications. In automatizing every aspect of our lives, we rid ourselves of the opportunities to see the beauty in the ordinary. What are we missing out when we order our lunch with UberEats rather than wandering around the streets to the closest sandwich place?

On the way, we might meet the love of our lives, or just bear witness to the simple joys of the street musicians playing their tunes, or recognize the tiny flower pushing through the hardest concrete in the middle of a walkway in a big city jungle. Now, of course, to see these small wonders we would need the capacity to actually pay attention to the ordinary and walk around the world with open eyes. The way we live now, constantly connected and plugged in, we lose the ability to be present and in the moment and to slow things down because we constantly chase the newest technologies to speed up our lives even more, and to gratify our senses in a heart beat.

What Really Makes Us Happy

Research shows that we are actually more resilient, meaning we are better able to overcome obstacles, have positive attitudes about life, and a good ability to regulate our emotions, when we slow down, take breaks during our work day (#RealBreak), sleep more, unplug from technology using apps such as Moment  or Flipd, meditate, or even (consciously) watch a movie. 

Additionally, delaying gratifications for long-term goals not only leads to greater academic success but also overall better psychological functioning (i.e., less psychological problems, better self-esteem). And the golden way to get there is practicing self-regulation (Think Marshmellow experiment) . Self-regulation helps us to keep calm under pressure, cope better with stress, it makes us more self-aware and achieve long-term goals.

Whereas certainly technologies can make or lives more efficient, reduce stress and can make us more mindful and alert when used in the right way, we have to watch out for the instant gratification trap these gadgets are luring us into.

Another problem that comes with the obvious independence our technologies provide us with is the apparent freedom of choices. Whereas we cognitively want as many choices as possible, really we are much happier with the fewer choices we have to make. Our mind is really funny that way.

Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert describes one of his famous experiments in this TED talk (see below)  where he showed that people were less happy when they had the choice to switch out an item (picture)  they chose before to keep than participants who were told that their choice was final. In addition, when students were given the choice to pick a course in which they would either have the chance to swap out the pictures they selected to keep (so an option with a choice) or a course in which their initial decision which picture to keep was final, 66% of the students picked the course where they had the choice to swap the pictures if they didn’t like their first choice. However, this option makes people significantly less happy.

The experiments show the conundrum of us wanting to have freedom of choice and the feeling of independence, but really, it is to our own demise. Having the option to pick and choose from so many things around us (may it be dates through swipe left-swipe right apps, lunch options, or fitness apps) makes it hard for us to settle with the choices we made and to recognize when it is time to unplug and be with what is.

While I think it is good to have technologies that provide us with independence (and a lot of them do) without knowing how to navigate the jungle of options, we are not really independent at all.

At the Ecology of Technology movement, we provide a roadmap for how to navigate our technology (in)dependence to foster productivity, well-being, and independence. Check it out.

How much independence do your  technologies give you in your day to day life?