What’s the difference between a ZOMBIE and a SMOMBIE? Zombies, with their vacant, dead eyes, are out there to KILL YOU. Smombies, on the other hand, with their vacant, dead eyes, are more likely to kill THEMSELVES. Granted the smombie (smartphone zombie) doesn’t quite pack the punch of the traditional undead, but there IS real and growing concern about the rapid increase of this infestation, and the accidents that take place around them. The German town of Augsburg has accepted this reality, taken the metaphorical bull by the horns and actually embedded traffic lights on the ground to keep their growing ranks of smombies out of harm’s way. Ridiculous? Maybe, but really just “hello world of 2016”.
So, is the idea of the smombie just lazy, technophobic rhetoric or is there a serious point to it? Should we actually be worried about these accident catalysts lurking on our streets? Should we do more to prevent this severely preoccupied race from infiltrating our office spaces and turning up, glassy eyed at our dinner tables? Because, as much as mobile tech has made life easier and more efficient (pauses to remotely activate the cat-feeder at home) – there’s certainly a darker side to this growing dependence that simply can’t be ignored. We feel it’s time to take action, and thus propose a no-phone day once a week. Think you can handle it?
Our daily commute has become ever more obstacle-ridden thanks to ‘smart’ technology
As accustomed as we are to the rising pandemic of the gormless on the streets of London, we could certainly benefit from Augsburg’s example. However adept we are at dodging them (yes, they are always ‘them’ and not us, obvs), our daily commute has become ever more obstacle-ridden thanks to ‘smart’ technology. Indeed, in an effort to reduce ‘walk ‘n text’ injuries, padded lampposts have already been tested in certain areas of our capital (sigh – it’s a thing). Researchers now blame our devices for up to 10% of pedestrian injuries, and, according to the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, “we aren’t talking about bumps and bruises, these are people who are straining muscles, dislocating joints and breaking bones.”
Is our fixation with smart technology turning us into detached, oblivious and socially stunted people?
Despite the irresistible urge to laugh when unsuspecting texters walk head-first into lampposts (as they watch YouTube videos of other people walking head-first into lampposts), there is something more serious than tragi-slapstick-comedy going on. There are serious questions being raised, such as whether our fixation with smart tech is actually turning us into detached, oblivious and socially stunted people. Are we perpetually connected yet increasingly disconnected from the world around us? Or, turning the question on its head, are these tired old questions pointing to yet another over-exaggerated moral panic – working to demonise technology as well as as the next adult generation? Studies indicate that young people aged 16 to 25 are most likely to be addicted to their devices, but let’s be honest, it isn’t just young people who are obsessed.
Our smartphones are a productivity tool and a handy device to alleviate stress
There is a strong case to be made for both sides of the argument, but in order to remain relevant to The Experience and the future of work, we’re specifically interested in the effect of smartphones on the workplace and whether our portable lifelines are a productivity tool or a time sucking device.
Smartphones have brought an unprecedented level of convenience to our working lives. Fact. They play a vital role in keeping us connected with important business contacts, quickly and efficiently, whether we’re in the office, waiting in the dentist’s waiting room or travelling to and from business meetings. They can prompt us with important reminders and help us manage our workload, with some studies even suggesting that they help buffer our preoccupation with work. Our stress levels actually rise when we’re not able to attend to things when we need or choose to.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, our smartphones can also help alleviate stress by providing us with timely microbreaks as we sit back, call a loved one, take an instapic, check our facebook or watch a kitten video. Don’t scoff – there’s evidence to suggest that cat videos can “boost viewers’ energy and positive emotions and decrease negative feelings” (as if you needed an incentive).
Is there a darker side to our smartphone technology?
Of course videos, texts, calls, and constant social media notifications can be an endless source of distraction too. Constant interruption can impede our levels of concentration and impact our productivity. In Australia, some workplaces have already banned smartphones entirely as a desperate attempt to boost employee productivity.
Perhaps the most compelling part of this discussion is why we might CHOOSE to spend breaks glued to our mobiles rather than contemplate the blueness of the sky or the diverse faces of strangers. What does this say about our real world interactions with reality? Is the modern-day smombie losing interest in it? Is the virtual world that bit easier to manage?
The psychological toll of our smartphone addiction
As much as smartphones can alleviate workplace stress for some, they are undoubtedly related to an increase in stress levels for others. In 2013, Swisscom chief executive Carsten Schloter openly shared the pressure he felt from his smartphone – the very technology that had brought him success. Acknowledging the downside of this device, he told a newspaper that “the most dangerous thing is to fall into a mode of permanent activity and continuously consult one’s smartphone to see whether any new mails have come in.” Two months later, he committed suicide.
Whilst Schloter’s death is an extreme result of our modern-day pressures, psychological research confirms that smartphones are creating a new kind of stress for people at home, at work, and in social settings. The psychology of mobile phone use is incredibly complex and only now are we seeing the side-effects take on recognisable shape. These shapes can take the form of depression, anxiety, addiction, hopelessness, eating disorders and insomnia.
Trial a no-phone day at work
Whatever your opinion, the impact of smartphones is relevant right now. So, in response to the more worrying aspects of our collective dependency, let’s trial a no-phone policy day and survey the impact it has on our emotional and physical wellbeing.
Nomophobia is the fear of being without your smartphone. Can you contemplate a day sans Facebook? Will you feel lost or incomplete? Might you enjoy a feeling of liberation? Perhaps an enforced rule will help you sidestep the guilt of ignoring potential calls or updates, helping you strike a healthier balance between your workload and personal time.
Taking inspiration from an era that preceded the mobile phone, let’s temporarily travel back in time and enjoy one day a week where we live in the present – learning to simply be who we are and where we are right now.