I came across this video last week, and I felt both sad and angry. If you watch the video, you’ll see a bride walking down the aisle, radiant in her white dress and her groom was not even looking at her. But it doesn’t stop there, he wasn’t looking at her because he was busy looking at his phone. He was completely oblivious to the momentous occasion that was unfolding before his eyes. And I was left wondering how could he be so detached from his own wedding? How could he miss the opportunity to connect with his partner on one of the most important days of their lives?
And the realization began to unfold for me, this is not an isolated incident. It is a symptom of a widespread problem that has engrossed millions of people around the world: phone addiction.
Phone addiction is a type of behavioral addiction that involves compulsive and excessive use of smartphones, usually at the expense of other aspects of life. What people fail to acknowledge is that this addiction interferes with work, school, relationships, health, and well-being. It also causes psychological distress, such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, and low self-esteem.
And I began noticing it everywhere I went after that. I was at a breakfast place and at the corner table was a couple both focussed on the cold screens of their smartphones. Their eyes were not locked at one another, but with the hypnotic glare of their digital display.
And I know so many people think it is a lighthearted issue, others refuse to admit their codependency with their phones. But it’s not a trivial matter. It is a serious issue that deserves more attention and action.
According to some research, roughly 27.9% of young adults are addicted to their cell phones and did you know that the average American checks their smartphone 352 times per day? 71% of people sleep with or next to their cell phones. 35% of people think of their cell phones when they wake up while only 10% of people think of their significant others.
These statistics are alarming, but to be honest they’re not all that surprising. Smartphones are designed to be addictive. They are a way to stay constantly stimulated, gratified, and connected. They appeal to our basic human needs and desires. They make us feel good, at least temporarily. But what I want to focus on is how they make us lose touch with reality and ourselves.
The encroaching digital landscape is leading to a societal disconnection from reality and a decay in an understanding of social cues.
How has our dependence on smartphones impacted our social interactions, personal responsibility, and overall sense of community?
Technology has changed the world in many ways, but not all of them are for the better. We have become more isolated, distracted, and superficial as a result of our dependence on smartphones and other devices. We don’t even value face-to-face interaction, community involvement, or personal responsibility anymore
Technology has completely eroded our sense of belonging, loyalty, and civility. It has made us more selfish, impatient, and rude. Our bonds have weakened. In the past, people used to spend time with their families and friends in person, sharing stories, laughter, and affection. They used to attend religious services, community events, and civic organizations, where they met new people and learned new skills. They used to have meaningful conversations with each other, listening attentively and respectfully to different opinions and perspectives.
But now everyone wants to spend time alone with their smartphones, scrolling through social media, watching videos, or playing games. They don’t want to participate in activities that require physical presence and interaction. They want to text messages, emojis, or memes, which lack nuance and emotion. They’ll avoid people who disagree with them.
I’m sorry but this is not the way we were meant to live. This is not the way we can thrive as a society. Where did our humanity go? We need to reconnect with our core values of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity. We need to restore our social skills of attention, empathy, and courtesy.
What are the casualties of phone addiction?
In the big picture of human interaction, social cues are the subtle notes that enrich our communication. They are the unspoken language of gestures, expressions, and tones that color our interactions with depth and nuance. A raised eyebrow, a softening of the voice, the unconscious mirroring of posture - these are the building blocks for social life.
There is so much evidence about phone addiction reducing our attention span, which is the amount of time we can focus on a task or stimulus without being distracted. According to a study by Microsoft, the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013, which is less than that of a goldfish.
One of the main factors behind this decline is the exposure to digital media and devices. When we are constantly checking our phones for notifications, messages, or updates, we are training our brains to switch from one thing to another rapidly, without paying much attention to any of them. This habit can impair our ability to concentrate on what is happening around us, especially when we are interacting with other people.
Attention is a component of social cue processing, it allows us to notice and interpret the subtle signals that others send us through their faces, bodies, and voices. When we are distracted by our phones, we may miss or misread these signals, which leads to misunderstandings, conflicts, or missed opportunities.
There is just a lot of lack of things that were the biggest blessings about being human. We don’t really have or prioritize social skills which include greeting others politely, introducing ourselves confidently, making small talk comfortably, asking questions respectfully, giving compliments sincerely, expressing gratitude graciously, apologizing sincerely, resolving conflicts peacefully, and ending conversations smoothly. These are things learned by observing and practicing in real-life situations and contexts.
But, when we always have our phones to bail us out. Then what happens? It prevents us from acquiring and applying these skills by isolating us from real-life social situations and contexts.
When we are addicted to our phones, we avoid and neglect social opportunities that require interaction. We feel anxious or uncomfortable in social situations that involve unfamiliar people or settings. We lack the confidence or competence to initiate or maintain conversations with others. We need to stop violating social norms or expectations by using our phones in inappropriate situations or manners; dinner parties, gatherings, weddings (especially if you’re the groom).
How does the paradox of being digitally connected yet disconnected from the real world affect our mental health, relationships, personal growth, and overall engagement with life?
I find that the most paradoxical effect of digital technology is that it can make us feel both more connected and more disconnected from the world. On the one hand, we have access to so much information, entertainment, and communication options that can broaden our horizons. On the other hand, we become so immersed in our digital devices that we lose sight of the reality around us and the people who matter most to us.
This is a phenomenon I like to call “plugged in” yet “unplugged” from the real world and it has serious implications for our mental health, relationships, and personal growth. Several studies have shown that excessive and compulsive use of digital technology can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and low self-esteem. It also interferes with our sleep quality, physical activity, and cognitive functioning.
But the biggest problem I find with being “plugged in” yet “unplugged” is that it hinders our personal growth, it makes us less curious, creative, and reflective. We end up relying on digital technology to provide us with instant gratification, stimulation, and validation, rather than seeking them from within ourselves or from meaningful experiences. I’ve even observed people lose touch with their own values, goals, and identity, as they are influenced by the digital media and culture that surround us.
Our senses which were created to engage us fully with the world around us, are being dulled by the two-dimensional digital universe. The sensation of warm sand under our feet, the texture of an old, worn-out book, the tangy sweetness of a ripe mango - such experiences have a richness that a digital simulation can never capture.
I often draw the parallel in the fact that we take pictures of the beautiful places we visit but one thing I’ve always heard people say when they look back at those pictures is that “they didn’t do the view justice.” So, when you are standing somewhere or doing something that you’re about to take a picture of, focus more. Focus on the feel of the air around you, the sounds, little details about the view, the feeling of the ground. Immerse yourself and watch yourself feel in a way that you’ve never done before.
How has our spiritual connection been impacted by the overuse of technology, and how do we reclaim our principles to lead a more meaningful and fulfilled life?
One of the most rewarding aspects of human life is the ability to connect with others and with ourselves on a deep and meaningful level. This ability is not only a source of joy and fulfillment, but also a reflection of our spiritual nature. I believe that we are not just physical beings, but also spiritual beings, created by God and endowed with a soul that transcends our material existence. Our soul is the core of our identity, the seat of our conscience, and the link to our divine origin and destiny.
But, in our modern society, we are often distracted from our spiritual dimension by the overuse of technology and we risk losing touch with our spiritual principles of presence, human connection, and empathy.
Christian texts, such as the Bible, advocate "loving thy neighbor," an exhortation to feel and understand the experiences of others.Our genuine human connection is nurtured through sharing and understanding the joys and sorrows of those around us. And in our smartphone-obsessed society, we are rapidly losing this vital connection.
Technology has given us a lot to do, maybe more than we had intended it to. But the path ahead gets more and more challenging each day. So take some time and think about this: A life marked by meaningful interactions, a mind at peace in the present moment, and a heart swelling with empathy - isn't that life truly worth living?