A defining characteristic of our generation is the emergence of mobile technology. We “Millenials” are technologically adept but can remember a time before technology ruled our lives. I grew up playing Chip’s Challenge on a boxy 20-pound desktop computer that I couldn’t carry with me. My father had a telephone (with a cord!) wired to the center console of his station wagon. And then, poof: Mark Zuckerberg shoved Facebook into the heart of every teen and Steve Jobs handed the world the iPhone.
Though the simplicity of landline phones, physical newspapers, and desktop computers has faded into a rosy memory, generations who come after us will not remember such a time—mobile technology will indefinitely play a pivotal role in their lives even before they leave the womb. It is for this reason that the responsibility to abate the negative side effects of mobile technology falls on us, before humans are socially conditioned to the norm of being unsocial.
As tech-savvy 20-somethings, we do not need a briefing on the undesirable externalities that have crept into our lives with the continual development of mobile technology. We know good and well what the shameless selfies, the incessant texting, and the superfluous social media apps have done to our here-and-now. We are all too familiar with the irksomeness of a friend abandoning our conversation so she can watch a Snapchat of someone vomiting rainbows. We have all felt the shame of looking up to realize that every member of our “social” group is on his or her phone. We know the guilt of foregoing the opportunity to spread kindness to perfect strangers because we’ve been too consumed by our devices.
Smart phones boast of global interconnectedness, but ultimately prune our self-centeredness. The iPhone’s prefix stands, mocking us: an understated “i” that is so omnipresent, we don’t even realize we’ve slipped into its default setting of self-worship. Nearly every app on the iPhone caters to our own personal advancements. The iPhone is a black glass pocket mirror, and as we stare into its fragmented light, various compartments of our own individual identities are reflected back at us.
But in fact, within the black mirror resides components of identities that couldn’t be farther from our own. The factory workers, the delivery men, the lawyers, and the engineers who toiled to produce our devices are hidden behind its “elegant” functionality. While we stare at ourselves satisfactorily—either through the iPhone’s front facing camera or through the many apps we use to keep track of our own lives—we disregard those people beyond our network of “connectivity.”
What’s worse is the illusion of global interconnectedness that we experience when mainstream apps like Snapchat expose users to other parts of the world. Snapchat stories that feature a new city each day are enjoyable in that they allow users to see celebrations occurring across the globe.
There are, however, more places and world conditions that fly under the radar than those that are caught on camera. Videos of Philadelphia during Pope Francis’ visit may show a city whose streets teemed with hope and excitement, but the actual struggles of the impoverished will never be broadcasted. Meanwhile, videos of Guangzhou, China, a city where millions of rural Chinese flock to work in factories and produce our goods, will never be shown.
This is not to say that Snapchat should begin to roll out new features that enlighten users to the extreme plight of the world. It is to illustrate, however, the empty facade of human connectivity that the iPhone emits. Our iPhones have more computing power than the government possessed 30 years ago. We must realize the true connective power of our devices, and demand systemic improvements to the products that are sold to us. While third party peer-to-peer apps have made progress in connecting unlikely people, the core operating system is underachieving and has exasperated segmentations between individuals.
Despite the narcissism, social diversion, and the illusion of connectedness that the iPhone propagates, the truth of the matter is that mobile smart devices are not going away. They will only increase in presence with the development of the Internet of Things and wearable technology. The convenience that our mobile devices provide thwarts the disconcertment engendered by the socially impolite and developmentally questionable problems they cause.
The addictive nature of iPhones can be equated to that of drugs, which leads me to ask: who is to blame, the drug user or the drug dealer? Who is to blame, the iPhone users or Apple? Though iPhone users have the power to choose how and when we use our phones, there is no denying the pervasive network effect that keeps us from shutting off our phones. Timothy Prestero, a respected product designer, said in a TED Talk, “There is no such thing as a dumb user. There are only dumb products.” In this truth lies the reason why Apple needs to seriously reconsider the design of its iPhone.
Creating effective products hinges on empathizing with the end user. Apple’s iPhone has succeeded with this task by providing developers with a platform to create applications that allow humans to organize his or her life via mobile email, banking, health tracking, messaging, and the Internet. The superfluity of apps, however, causes distraction, detachedness, and addictive behavior in users. Though the side effects of enhanced productivity may have initially been unintended, the pervasive detriment they impose on users’ lives makes me question why the company’s corporate leaders have not yet publically acknowledged the issue.
By refocusing their attention on empathizing with humanity—by considering not just productivity but what humans need, want, and what types of physical situations help them to naturally learn and develop Apple’s products, can harmonize the digital, physical, and emotional, and help make holistic improvements on the lives of all people: users and non-users alike.
Thus the question is not: How can we rid ourselves of our cellular devices. It is not: where can we hide them, what rooms can we forbid them, or how long can we go without them? The question is, how can we incite producers to transform these powerful, impactful devices to foster not only mindfulness among users, but also a positive auxiliary impact?
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphics