A conversation about the current age of mobile devices

We love our new technologies of connection. They have made parents and children feel more secure and have revolutionized business, education, scholarship, and medicine. They have changed how we date and how we travel. The global reach of connectivity can make the most isolated outpost a center of learning and economic activity. One would be hard pressed to not to find families out for dinner, each one glancing on their mobile device.

The contemporary technological world reflects a monumental shift in daily living. The home computer embedded technology into daily living to a far greater degree than anything before. But even then, a person must be in the location of the desktop to use it. Today’s technological world is differentiated from the other ages by its mobility and omnipresence. iPhone, Blackberry, iPads, and Android cell phones are a constant companion. It is this tethering to gadgets that makes the current technological society unique. Text messaging and social networking go on continually – during meetings, while on the phone, writing, doing homework, shopping, waiting in line, or listening to a lecture. Implicit in this constant connectivity is the idea that we increase productivity, a value of the highest order in the post-industrial world. Implicit also is how grandiose it makes us feel; that is, the wonders of mobile technology stimulate the idea of a feeling of exceptional power, an almost inhuman sense of oneself. However, is there a price we pay? In the early days of cell phones it was considered rude to answer a call in the middle of a conversation but within a few years, it’s now considered commonplace and acceptable. Technology not only intercedes between people, but it also takes priority.

In a discussion of the price we may pay for tethered technology, Turkle (2011) found that the impact of omnipresent technology on daily life left many white-collar workers expressing the feeling of suffocation at the expectation that they should be continually available. Business is done on weekends and evenings; and the expectation of continual availability is not uncommon. In essence, mobile technology has blurred the lines between work and home life. And speed has become the highest priority. The constant connectivity also comes with it a constant fear of falling behind, of failing to keep pace. As a society, we have adopted the principle that all should be done as fast as resources allow. When technology accelerates a process, the new speed becomes the new standard. Piaget, the famous developmental psychologist, was known for saying that once Americans discover a developmental process, the American will then ask, “can it be done faster?” Cyberspace has set a standard for speed that enslaves many people to the devices that were supposed to free them.

Research is also now revealing another price we pay for constant connectivity. Research is now finding that young people are doing homework while attending to Facebook, shopping, music, online games, texts, and videos. The omnipresence of mobile technology has led to a pervasive distractibility. Young people have difficulty maintaining concentration on a single activity. There’s a commonly held myth that by learning to manage a variety of task simultaneously, today’s youth are getting better at multi-tasking without the danger of any loss of performance. Research is actually showing the opposite; that is, in multitasking all tasks end up being performed at a subpar level. The reality is that doing several tasks at once serves to degrade performance on each one.

Another danger of our current age of mobile technology is the absent self. Texting and instant messaging are no longer primarily practical activities; they have become a way of life. It has become a venue for gossip and social conversation; and a popular source of seeking romantic partners. Research has found that from a means of quick communication to achieve quick goals, the Internet has become the way adolescents contact and relate to each other. As a result, today’s adolescents seem to feel unsure of what experiences even are outside of cyberspace communication. Today’s manner of continual, and for some almost nonstop, Internet contact, adolescents commonly lack the ability to be alone and reflect on their states of mind. When feeling lonely, the adolescent uses texts and the instant messaging of brief telegraphic communications to feel connected. This “contact” may take the sting out of loneliness but he/she is not engaged with the other. He gains neither the satisfaction of solitude, nor the enrichment of human connection. In other words, he is alone together. (Ideas were also taken from Frank Summers in "The Psychoanalytic Vision, 2103)