The rapid transformation and competitive emergence of marketed personal devices has undoubtedly shifted our relationships with these tiny supercomputers in our pockets (Smith, 2012). As a result of this relationship, one might be vulnerable to being labeled as device dependent. We need to further analyze whether or not this is the case. Is the person using their device for things that make them truly less connected to the world? Or are they using it to bring themselves and world closer together?
The [Social] Media
In our society, media influences what we attend to or what we do not (Bordieu, 1996; Campbell, 2005; Petrina, 2006; Smith, 2012). However, social media can bring groups together to make a radical social difference in major world issues or times of crises.
For example, a young Kenyan woman, Okolloh, had reached out to a network of people to help develop an idea she had about the creation of "a map-based tool for reporting violence” in Kenya (Thompson, 2014, p.62). The tool allowed anyone to pick a location on a Google Map of Kenya, to provide the time and the description of the violent act that had occurred. “They called it Ushahidi - the Swahili word for ‘testimony’” (p.62). Ushahidi eventually gained financial support from nonprofit organizations allowing the program to expand beyond its original goals: 1) to bring awareness to the violence in Kenya; and 2) to determine where to send assistance during catastrophic events, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Okolloh could have spent years wondering how to put her idea into action, wishing a tool like Ushahidi existed. But, because she had an audience of people on the internet, Ushadihi was created by the power of public thinking.
Unfortunately, there are occasions when the power of going public can create a negative effect. There is a sociological phenomenon called the bystander effect where a crowd of people collectively do not come to the aid of someone in need because they assume somebody else will intervene (Solis, 2013; Wright, 2014). In the past, this would be a group of bystanders who witness the event in person and do nothing. However, in today’s society, people have begun to pull out mobile devices and film or photograph the event. One such example of this took place in Vancouver, BC in February 2014: a panhandler had been given $50 by a man to be kicked in the groin (Woodward, 2014). While there was a group of people witnessing this event, none had stepped in to help the panhandler and to prevent the beating from continuing. Instead, many used their cell phones to record the occurrence and to post it on YouTube (Wright, 2014). In this situation, there was a passive group behaviour: people came to believe it was not an emergency because other bystanders were not helping the man, either. They simply recorded the event on their mobile devices (Wright, 2014).
Availability and FOMO
The need to be constantly reachable has definite pros and cons in the scheme of life. In the same way that you can connect instantaneously with others, you can also find a frustrating disconnect when that doesn’t happen. For example, if your family has a big, important celebratory meal (where cell phones are not allowed to be out, of course), then you may spend the entire meal worrying if you’ve missed something online or in your friend circles. A similar issue may result if the response you receive is not instantaneous or at least rather fast. Turkle (2012) states, “FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers” (para. 14).
This feeling is called FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. It’s that weird phenomenon where you feel the need to be constantly plugged in, not necessarily to contribute, but because you want to stay on top of what is going on in your social circles and networks. This is the condition that causes people to incessantly check their devices and social networks, even when they’re not expecting a ping to come their way. Smith (2012) reports that “67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. Some 18% of cell owners say that they do this ‘frequently’” (para. 4).
This question, after all we’ve given you to think about on this site, is probably the biggest question to ask of them all:
Would you be the same person if you didn’t have a mobile device altogether?
MacDonald (2012) reports that by the year 2010, an estimated 90% of the world will have cell phone coverage. As access to 3G, 4G, LTE data, and wifi become more ubiquitous, we have to expect our technology use to shift (Walters, 2012). It makes perfect sense: if afforded to use our mobile devices practically anywhere, people will take advantage of it.
Using mobile devices to connect, learn, and create in places like coffee shops and restaurants is nothing new or novel (Hyman, 2014, July; LearnSmart). However, some North American cities have begun extending their wifi availability to public parks, which is fabulous news for those who want to work while reconnecting with nature. One city that has made this change states:
“Park-goers will be able to stay connected with their laptop computers, smartphones, tablets and other Wi-Fi enabled devices as they enjoy the amenities or attend any of the many festivals held in these widely-visited parks.” (Archbald, 2013)
Critics may balk at public wifi in parks (Tremonti 2014), particularly provincial or national parks, which advertise to offer spaces that "provide for the protection of nature”. Others are hopeful that the availability of public wifi in parks will increase the number of park-goers, and therefore, the appreciation for the parks. Kathy Daley, a camping enthusiast hailing from Winnipeg, sensibly states: “...if it’s available to people who want it, fantastic, and if you don’t want to partake, just don’t bring your phone” (Tremonti, 2014, para.5).
Have you ever felt a little crazy trying to stay on top of all of the updates, pings, and little red (or other-coloured) notifications on your phone? There seems to be constant pressure to stay at “Inbox Zero” - a productivity-oriented workplace’s dream.
The 21st-century workforce and media push us to believe that increased productivity is necessary at all times; in other words, the workday stretches far beyond the hours in the office or at school. On the other hand, this also allows individuals to telecommute - or stay at home and work - because so much time outside the office is spent on work-related issues. This can give the individual more choice and freedom over when and how many hours they log for work as well as saving time and money on lengthy commutes on busy freeways. According to an article by Strategic Growth Concepts, “Mobile technology allows people to use company data and resources without being tied to a single location. Whether your staff are travelling to meetings, out on sales calls, working from a client's site or from home anywhere on the globe, mobile devices can help them keep in touch, be productive, and make use of company resources” (2014, para. 3).
There’s so much to think about: using social media for positive change, notifications, FOMO, wifi in parks… it seems like we very well could be digitally dependent.
After considering all of these points, remember that you still have a choice whether you let it consume your life or not. Take some time to slow down and analyze your own technology use. For example, the family in this video (viewable below) celebrates a Technology Shabbat - a Jewish term for a day of rest - to make sure that they unplug together as a family at least one day every week (AOL Originals, 2013; Shabbat, 2014). It’s a great way to manage your own technology use and make sure you spend some mindful time with family and friends.
(AOL Originals, 2013). Technology Shabbat: Ep.1 The Future Starts Here.