According to a ground-breaking study, smartphone users have transformed into ‘human snails carrying our houses in our pockets,’ with a propensity to disregard friends and family in favor of their device.
Long from being mindless toys, individuals felt the same way about their smartphones as they did about their houses, according to a team of anthropologists from UCL who spent more than a year studying smartphone use in nine different nations, from Ireland to Cameroon. The evolution of smartphones has come a long way. From simply sending texts and calling our loved ones to let them know we are safe; smartphones are now an extension of our lives. This little device (which is not so little anymore) is now our source of connection, work, and also entertainment.
People are feeling the pressures of never being offline when it comes to their work environment. We can not be reached 24/7 if we have our phone with us. Smartwatches are also connected to your phone which means that people can reach you anytime and anywhere. Work emails and applications are now being downloaded on our phones so that we can always be in sync with what is going on inside of the office, even if we’re on vacation. Although this can be advantageous, it can also work against you.
On the other hand, we are now in constant reach of entertainment with our smartphones. While previous phones only had the classic games like Snake to keep us occupied, we can now stream videos, watch Netflix, and even play our favorite games at mobile casinos while we wait for our food to be served or while we’re in a taxi in traffic.
Prof Daniel Miller, who led this study, claims that ‘the smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live. The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone.’
This is what is leading to the phenomenon known as the ‘death of proximity’ when referring to face-to-face interactions. ‘This behavior, and the frustration, disappointment or even offense it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’, Miller continues. ‘We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.’
However, smartphones are also basic necessities nowadays. People can stay in contact with families and friends with apps like WhatsApp making it possible to maintain long-distance relationships. Miller claims that, ‘the smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the house itself (and possibly also the workplace) in terms of the amount of time we dwell in it while awake. We are always ‘at home’ in our smartphones. We have become human snails carrying our home in our pockets.’
On the other hand, ‘the smartphone may reduce the prior experience of home as a refuge. Employees may now be expected to remain in contact with their work, for instance, even after leaving the workplace. A child bullied by other pupils at school now finds little or no respite through coming back to her or his home.’
However, having a negative outlook on smartphones will not get us anywhere, according to Miller. ‘The smartphone is helping us create and recreate a vast range of helpful behaviors, from re-establishing extended families to creating new spaces for healthcare and political debate. It is only by looking at the vastly different uses and contexts that we can fully understand the consequences of smartphones for people’s lives around the world.’