Are smartphones making us antisocial?

In 1906, a British magazine of humor and satire named “Punch or The London Charivari”, released an image which after more than a century later speaks a thousand words.

The black and white cartoon picture shows a couple sitting in a park facing opposite with an antenna protruding from their hats, looking down at the ticker tape, spitting out of the black boxes. For general humor, the cartoonist aimed for broad appeal but in today’s world, this appears prophetic.

There’s nothing worse than people sitting at a cafe or a restaurant and checking their phones avoiding an actual conversation. Even though the photo seems to have diverged from its actual meaning, you can’t seem to notice how similar it is whenever we go out with our friends.

Around the globe, you’ll see so many teens posting “Antisocial” as their status on social media apps. The reason for that is not because they were born that way but molded towards it. A common sense media company surveyed over 1000 teens, 61% of which preferred texting their friends, video-chatting, or using social media over in-person communication.

Tristan Harris, former product manager at Google, now leads an initiative to wean consumers off the attention-destroying technology he helped once create. He established a non-profit organization called the Center of Humane Technology. Its mission is to drive a comprehensive shift toward humane technology that supports the collective well-being, democracy, and shared information environment.

One thing we as humans are slow to predict is the way technology can manipulate our thoughts. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend and I asked him, “Why do we keep ‘Streaks’ on Snapchat?”. After a few seconds, as lightning struck him, he realized they were totally pointless. Even though he perceived it he didn’t stop sending snaps because his streaks had reached the 500 mark. Keeping people engaged on an app is by making them start a habit and that's exactly what Snapchat and other social media apps do in one way or the other. Think of a situation where some influencer spreads fake news. Even though many people might ignore the news or deem it stupid, there is no guarantee that all of them would do the same. Someone is bound to believe it. The mass effect of all this is unthinkable.

“I don’t know a more urgent problem than this. Because this problem is underneath all other problems.” — Tristan Harris

Smartphones have made your brain's capacity to shrink. Let’s say you heard of a new word and you quickly google its meaning but you don’t actually memorize it because you know if it comes across, you can easily google it again. This impacts kids in highschool the most because their minds are always finding an easy way to achieve anything.

The solution to limit social media isn’t an easy task. You cannot just wake up and say I won’t be using my phone today because your body is trained to check your phone if notifications pop up. Limiting your screen time is probably one of the most impactful ways. Try keeping track of your screen time, many apps can help you do it. Slowly and steadily noticing your phone usage and restricting yourself from using apps that you consume the most time on.

Remember, the goal here isn’t to quit smartphones entirely but to increase productivity instead of checking someone’s post and wasting 30 minutes.

Ultimately it's up to you to decide what to do in life. But there's one thing that won’t stop and that is time. Wasting it on social media apps is shameful. If we are able to stop digital distractions, online nuisances, and cyber diversions from stealing the irreplaceable hours of our life, we’ll be able to focus on what matters the most. Travel the world, communicate, and most importantly find what makes you happy.

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