Has the Smartphone Changed Us for the Better?

The ‘60s were all about the hippie movement, peace and love, the Age of Aquarius, counterculture and rock and roll. The ‘80s gave birth to inflation, corporate downsizing, and the personal computer. The new millennium brought us the dot-com bust, the war on terror, global warming, Gen Y and social media.

How will history characterize today’s world? In all likelihood, the defining aspect of our time will be the smartphone. For better or worse, it has changed us in big ways in a very short time. If aliens were observing the human race from space, they would definitely think our lives revolve around these little hunks of aluminum and glass.

Millennials say their mobile phone is the most important thing in their daily lives – more important than TV, their car, even personal hygiene. And nearly half of adults say they couldn’t last more than a day without their phone, according to a recent survey.

If you follow the tech media as I do, the gadget half of us can’t live without has somehow managed to make us superhuman, usher in a golden age of journalism, change our lives (for the better), and unleash humanity’s creative potential.

That last article describes this strange interrelationship as “a bond that shapes us at the deepest level—in how we express ourselves, in what we hold out as beautiful and compelling, in how we try to emotionally connect, in ways abstract and literal, with our friends and muses. Our phones are now indelibly bound up with our aesthetic souls.”

I’ve got to say that’s a tough act to follow. Such a lovely and poetic description I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost, but I’ll try. Let’s see. Maybe I fell through a wormhole on the way home from the Apple Store and landed on another planet or something, but I am so not feeling it. Not one bit.

Something is definitely not right when realizing you’ve left the house without your phone sends you into a blind panic worse than when you started to drive off with a child seat on top of your SUV … with your child in it.

Maybe it’s just me, but when a car came crashing through a store window a few months back and everyone just stood there recording it for YouTube instead of helping the driver, that was not a good sign for the human race.

While I don’t necessarily have a problem with people taking their phones to the bathroom, something is definitely wrong when you can’t go to the bathroom without it. Literally.

It’s only a matter of time before texting cracks the top ten causes of death. People are walking into poles on the street, stepping off curbs into traffic, cutting their fingers preparing food, and nearly driving into highway dividers (I admit that last one was me but I only did it once and nearly had a heart attack).

It can’t be good when your phone is the last thing you look at before you go to sleep and the first thing you check when you wake up. Or that seeing you have no new notifications overnight sends you into a deep dark depression.

And no, playing a seriously engaging game of TwoDots is not the same as being in the moment.

There is another school of thought on the era-defining smartphone revolution. It is not making us more creative but dumbing us down. It is not helping us connect with each other but disconnect from each other emotionally. It is not a social tool but an antisocial tool.

Along with social media, games, videos, apps, and of course messaging, the smartphone is turning us all into disengaged, distracted, unsocialized, and often uncivilized drones that are just as addicted to tapping away at those little displays as behaviorally trained rats in a Skinner box experiment. 

When we’ve reached the point where Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) is so concerned about our behavior – that we no longer look up from our gadgets long enough to see the sun, the stars, or each other – that it produced a video suggesting we all wear dog cones to cure our addiction, that should be a wakeup call if there ever was one.

Look, you know I’m no Luddite. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the products themselves. The technology is miraculous. But you know as well as I do that just telling people they should disconnect once in a while is not going to cut it. I’m not even sure that Coca-Cola’s Social Media Guard will work. Somebody will figure out how to hack it.

And while I do think history will call this the smartphone era, the content beneath that heading has yet to be written, regardless of the self-serving prism some of the tech media view it through. History will judge us by the ultimate outcome and that depends on what each one of us does next with the precious time we have left to live.

It is a choice. Every moment of every day, remember, you do have a choice. Make it wisely.