The New Killer Addiction
It’s epidemic. All over the planet. And there doesn’t appear to be a cure.
People, especially young people, are increasingly no longer involved in the real world around them but are almost constantly engrossed in the shallow artificiality that is flipping past their emotionless zombie gazes on their smartphones and tablets. Take a short break from your own cell and look around in any public park, at the beach, on school campuses, in airline terminals, on buses and in airplanes. Nearly everyone is immersed in Phoneworld. You see couples on the street far more engaged with their phones than with each other. People ostensibly go out for a group dinner, then rudely ignore each other so they can receive messages and feverishly thumb texts off into the ether. Tourists standing before nature’s splendors take endless phone shots and selfies rather than indulge in old-fashioned experiencing and enjoying.
The addiction all too often has gruesome and deadly consequences. Driving while texting and talking on cellphones is killing 5,000 people a year and injuring thousands more across our nation alone. Even distracted walking with resultant injuries is becoming a threat, with people bumping into each other on busy sidewalks or stepping out into traffic.
A recent Baylor University study of college students, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, found that women spend an average of ten hours daily on their cellphones, while men spend an average of eight hours. Subtract sleep time and that doesn’t leave many hours for reality. Sixty percent of all students queried admitted they may have Screen Addiction.
Nobody seems to know what to do about it.
There are increasing pressures that deepen the addiction through thousands upon thousands of apps. A Hilton app lets you use your phone as a room key. Restaurants and supermarkets and stores are encouraging you to use your phone as an ordering and checkout tool, allowing them to operate with fewer employees. Theme parks have navigational and ride-wait-time apps that speed customer flow. There are gadgets that tether your phone to you so you seldom even have to put it down or into a pocket or purse.
And all the while robotic web crawlers, lurking invisibly and silently behind our billions of screens, are at work for vast data centers like Facebook and Google and Amazon, tirelessly watching and listening and gathering and storing away data on every addict, from our educational and employment and medical and political and social histories to our dining and entertainment preferences to our brands of underwear.
Is this an early sign of artificial intelligence (AI) creeping into our lives, eventually to seek more control over us than it obviously already has? Robots are not only building our vehicles but are also taking over driving them. Computers are piloting and landing planes and controlling our habitats and talking cordially with us and even generating news reports.
We lost one of our great minds recently. Before he left us, Stephen Hawking warned humankind about the insidious encroachment of AI. So far, there’s no evidence I can see that anyone has listened to him.
We’re all too mesmerized by—and intimately occupied with—our wonderful cellphones.