I think it’s time we be honest, the world is literally in our hands. Our digital existence is our existence, and we’d be foolish to fear it.
Much of the current discourse around smartphones and connected devices seems quite narrow-minded and ill-informed, particularly when we hear people talk about the so-called “benefits” of switching themselves off from their devices and getting back to the “real world”.
Such backwards-thinking rhetoric does little but imply a certain determinism from the technology itself unto those who use it. In an age where globalisation has flattened the earth, we are no longer are geographically constrained by our countries’ borders.
Connected devices and mobile technology are not unlike the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which was met with cynicism, especially by those who held positions of power, fearing that the widespread circulation of knowledge would undermine their authority. Similar to Gutenberg’s press, modern technology seeks to democratise information and take the control of knowledge away from established institutions.
The smartphone has made sending a letter completely obsolete, and if it hasn’t done so already, it will make the landline useless sooner rather than later. As the printing press took information away from the hands of religious and monarchical institutions, who had long relied on the ignorance of the masses, the smartphone has the power to do the same.
From a sociological perspective, this kind of rhetoric is technologically determinist, implying that technology itself dictates social structures and interactions, which is completely reductive. In fact, society dictates technology and how it is used, because the technology is passive.
No longer are we bound to the stymied media dialog present in Australia through traditional means such as television and print media. The smartphone represents agency; it represents choice; it allows people to seek out information themselves and compare the results, rather than the traditional top-down structure. The ability to be constantly connected to a network of information, personal contacts and work-related content is a remarkable achievement in technology and innovation, and those who don’t utilise the technology will invariably get left behind.
Those who believe that connected technology such as smartphones cause people to become overly attached and develop “addictions” give too much agency to technology. If anything, the ability to be immediately connected to work-related material from your smartphone affords increased productivity, meaning you can be ahead of the game.
In an increasingly competitive job market, where a Bachelor’s degree is as ubiquitous as a freshly-ironed shirt, it’s beyond important to be constantly connected. I’m sure that the reliable “I’m sorry, I had my phone turned off all weekend” isn’t going to cut it with your boss as a meaningful excuse.
If anything, the ability to be immediately connected to work-related material from home or from your smartphone affords increased levels of productivity, meaning you don’t have to sit unproductively in stalled traffic on your way to the office, but can instead be reading your work e-mails and be ahead of the game.
Those who believe that connected technology such as smartphones cause people to become overly attached and develop “addictions” give too much agency to technology. There are those who believe that this hyper-connectivity is detrimental to our relationships, in particular, when work spills over into our social lives and disrupts our “work-life” balance, yet I would argue the complete opposite.
Face facts – it’s 2017, and long gone are the days of a completely separate distinction between our working and social lives. The democratisation of information is an incredible privilege – a privilege that, sadly, too many around the world don’t enjoy.
So, let us utilise technology and not fear it, embrace the benefits it affords, and be fortunate that we exist in a time where innovation is encouraged rather than stifled.