EDITORIAL: Smartphones are making us dumber

Wed, Jun 26, 2013 - Page 8

Smartphones are making us dumber

From the way people behave on the MRT, on buses, at coffee shops, restaurants, in parks, or on sidewalks, one would think that Taiwan had been hit by a zombie infestation well before the release of summer zombie blockbuster World War Z. Everywhere one turns, they are there, walking about in a daze, sitting comatose, completely oblivious to their surroundings and absorbed in their smartphones, their insect-like fingers tapping and sliding furiously.

Hailed just a few years ago as a great technological advance, the smartphone has since turned into an instrument that has made the general population more dumb, less attentive, asocial and disconnected from reality.

Like gunpowder or nuclear energy, the device is not intrinsically evil and contains the potential for good, provided that it is used wisely. Unfortunately, with alarming frequency, the smartphone is used not to enhance intelligence or as a tool of convenience, but as a means of distraction that is rapidly turning a lot of people into mindless creatures.

Observe these smartphone zombies in action, see them ignore spouses and friends at restaurants, blithely occupy seats reserved for the elderly or pregnant women on the MRT, or stop abruptly at the top or bottom of escalators, making collisions all but inevitable. This sudden stopping happens so frequently now as to have become a national hazard, which perhaps calls for the passing of new regulations.

The majority of these zombies are mind-numbingly zapping alien creatures as they cascade down the touchscreen, growing batches of pixelated mushrooms, bursting multicolored bubbles, lobbing feathered balls at oinking piglets, or typing text messages to friends or lovers detailing what they had for lunch or relating the latest office gossip.

The long-term physical and psychological consequences of this mass addiction to tablets and smartphones cannot bode well for humanity. Fueled by the ceaseless launching of ever more powerful phones with larger screens, faster processors and alluring new features, this plague is further alienating people from each other and widening the space between the individual, the community and the external world.

People do not read books anymore, an activity that encourages development and fuels the imagination, nor do they engage in meaningful conversation, look at the stimulating environment around them, or engage in artistic creation. Their entire world seems contained in that rectangular screen from which they derive and learn nothing. These zombies are killing time, unaware that they are killing their brain cells and brain-limb coordination too. Aside from the exercising of fingers, no good comes from this slavish use of smartphones.

There are plenty of ways to pass time and while the brain does need rest, there are much more constructive ways of relaxing the mind than losing oneself in a small LCD screen. It would be interesting to see an image of a person’s brain activity as they while away hours on these devices. In all likelihood, brain activity would be at a minimum and probably becomes less pronounced over long and sustained exposure to this technological opiate. In other words, using smartphones makes people stupid. How many hours, days, months is one willing to sacrifice to this evil electronic god, this bane of humanity?

If only for the sheer desire to experience the wonders of the world in the short amount of time one is given to do so, people should put down their smartphones and relearn how to engage with their surroundings by reading, doing photography, listening to music, playing an instrument, riding a bicycle, or, sacrilege, having a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with someone.