Doyle ’18: Don’t fear the smartphone

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, October 12, 2015

You’ve probably gotten the “your phone is ruining your life” lecture before. You’re missing the world around you. Friendships are no longer meaningful. Social skills and etiquette are things of the past. My go-to response has always been a sarcastic retort of “You’re right, let’s go back to the Pony Express!” Granted, I tend to be difficult just for the fun of it. This time, though, I meant it. Too many claim technological progress is impacting our lives negatively when it has really brought far more benefit to its users.

Studies conducted over the last 8 years actually suggest that teenagers who use more online forms of communication tend to have better friendships. Specific evidence has not been found to suggest any sort of deterioration of social skills or quality of life. Of course, scientists are fallible, and these conclusions may change in the future. But it seems silly to continue to argue for an unsubstantiated claim.

Personally, I am incredibly grateful for the technology our generation is lucky enough to experience. When my closest friend moved to a different continent four years ago, I was heartbroken. But with the help of smartphones and laptops, we were able to stay in touch. We could send messages at the touch of a button, video chat and play mobile games together.

When I was separated from my boyfriend for months in a row, disappearing Snapchats of funny faces and smartphone applications for “thumb kisses” made the distance more manageable. When I’m missing my precious five-year-old sister, I can send her a voice message through her stuffed kitten Cloud Pet. Technology has allowed me to maintain relationships in a way I would not be able to otherwise.

Some depend on smartphones for comfort on a daily basis. Apps for meditation and relaxation can be lifesavers for those suffering from anxiety. Social networking can be a convenient pick-me-up for lonely days. The first time I left home for an extended period of time was for an academic summer camp when I was 13 years old. I was a terrified, homesick mess and the silence after mandatory lights-out tormented me. My panic stopped when I realized I could watch movies on my iPod until I fell asleep. Something as trivial as a small piece of technology changed my summer experience to the point where I was able to gain a learning opportunity I would have given up on otherwise.

Of course, there are times when smartphones are simply convenient. Technological advances have allowed me to keep my calendar, to-do list, weather, news, financial information, medication management, important files and emails all in my pocket. At the touch of a button, I can summon a ride to any point in Rhode Island right from campus. With a second touch, I can check my class assignments or receive emergency safety alerts.

With all the benefits of smartphone technology, why has it become so demonized? News outlets seem to constantly cover the fact that children don’t play outside enough anymore. Yet this could be for a variety of reasons. Elementary schools have become more competitive as homework has become more time-intensive, leaving children with less free time. Parents’ safety concerns may also come into play, as the outdoors generally regarded as less safe than one’s own home.

Outdoor play can have benefits of vitamin D exposure, exercise and relaxation, and technology does not necessarily get in the way of this. In fact, many apps encourage children to go outside, such as those related to constellation maps, geocaching (which involves outdoor treasure hunts) and hiking trails. Even those that don’t, like most video games, can get young children interested in computing and programming — activities that encourage critical thinking and can lead to successful careers.

It seems likely that unfamiliarity breeds unease. Today’s technology may seem foreign to our grandparents, just as previous technology did to theirs. So it is important to keep in mind that this distrust comes from irrational emotions rather than real problems. One day, technology will advance to a point that will seem scary to those who currently embrace smartphones. When this time comes, we’ll owe it to the younger generation to allow them to participate without guilt. Progress is human nature, and to stifle it in the name of fear would be a disservice.

But moderation is key. A smartphone may well be a problem to some who never put it down. But feeling lost without one’s phone for a day is not something to be ashamed of. You might feel lost without your car or wristwatch, too, though those items aren’t questioned as they’ve been around longer. Video games shouldn’t take over a child’s life, but they are a fine recreational activity.

Of course, children should continue to engage in sports or other activities to keep healthy. Furthermore, technology usage should be limited at bedtime, as bright screens have been shown to disrupt sleep. Like any luxury, smartphones can be perfectly healthy when a few simple precautions are taken.

Allie Doyle ’18 checks her email constantly at alexandra_doyle@brown.edu.

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