Me, Myself and My Smartphone
Take a look to your left, now take a look to your right. I guess your smartphone is situated within your direct reach. The electronic monitoring system is our constant companion through our daily routine and by now indispensable for most of its users. How else are we supposed to keep in touch with all the important people in our life, organize our day, remember meetings, check the bus schedule, look up this one actor in this one movie or show others funny memes which are “so true”? When was the last time you actually called a person? When was the last time you turned your phone off for more than 24 hours?
No matter what excuse we manage to come up with, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we are all a bit addicted. I am honest with myself and admit that I could not imagine not having a phone or, let’s be more precise, internet access for more than two days. We go crazy the moment our connection crashes. Right now I am living abroad, and how else am I supposed to stay in touch with my family and friends? Smartphones and the internet give us the wonderful opportunity to communicate with each other over great geographical and even temporal distances. However, turning my device off for even a day gives me FOMO – the fear of missing out (cf. Barker).
Our world is changing so fast, new discoveries are made every day, people are forever creating new content, and because of the internet and social media everything can be shared and spread on the World Wide Web. Turning off my phone and shutting down my social media accounts would mean my constantly missing out on something, as new things happen every second.
Our generation, known as the Millenials or Generation Y, is used to constant stimulation (cf. Briggs). We grew up under constant media influence, whether this was from television, video games or the very first mobile phones. What did our parents do all day long? Read books and climb trees? The answer is simple: they learned how to deal with boredom. Can our generation deal with boredom? Not really, I would say, as we pull out our phone the second something doesn’t happen immediately. We have a problem with waiting, whether it is waiting for a class to start, for the bus or in the waiting room to see the doctor. Then, when you have to wait, you take out your smartphone – not because you are expecting an important message, but more out of habit. You spend five minutes scrolling through your Facebook page or Instagram timeline, two more minutes answering messages you haven’t answered yet simply because you didn’t want to, and two more minutes unlocking another level in Candy Crush. We are used to getting things instantly by simply pressing a button, because nearly everything is on direct demand. Furthermore, we have the feeling that every minute we are not doing anything is a bit of wasted time, because there is always something to do. That feeling is simply an illusion, however; actually, it is rather nice and relaxing to do nothing. Turn your FOMO into JOMO – joy of missing out.
By subjecting our brain to constant stimulation, we are setting it in standby mode and failing to allow it to develop its own ideas. That is why it is so much harder to write an essay, study or have innovative ideas while being on your computer. The best ideas and thoughts actually come to you when you close your eyes and allow yourself and your mind to wander off. Release your brain from the constant stimulation and stress you unconsciously put it under 24/7, don’t be afraid of missing out on something you don’t even really care about and simply turn your digital life off for a while.
My Data-Common Good
Imagine another dimension in which you are actually paying money to use the internet. If certain decisions had been made differently, that could have been reality. Yet even now we pay for this use – not with our money, but with our data. Hundreds and thousands of gigabytes are collected every second – hundreds and thousands of pieces of personal information, data so extensive that new algorithms have had to be written in order to make sense of it all. This mass of data, the data of every digital process and social media interaction whether it is direct data or metadata, is called big data (cf. Rouse).
We are so used to being spied on that we do not even care whether big companies like Google and Facebook track our every step; we just make the excuse that we have nothing to hide anyway. Why should a big company care where an insignificant individual like me spends his Friday morning? The answer is easy: business and money. Every single piece of information about you helps big companies sell you their products by making offers you simply cannot turn down, because this is exactly what you are being told to want and need. By creating a digital identity of a person – a digital copy of a living, breathing identity – advertisers are very well able to predict your likes and dislikes, guess what you like and manipulate you into buying things you would otherwise not have wanted. Digital profiling takes it a step further, as in a possible future your character traits, as derived from your data, may play a decisive role for your health insurance or loan opportunities, for instance. Therefore, a person whose data indicates an unpredictable, impulsive or even risky lifestyle might struggle to get a loan or ordinary insurance (cf. Gaylor).
We live in an age where privacy has become a concept we cling to even though it has already failed. What is left of privacy? How easy is it to get information about a person based on their name and city of residence or by tracking their electrical devices? The interactive documentary “Do Not Track” tries to raise awareness of exactly these problems by including the audience as an active part of the process. Collecting data nowadays means much more than just numbers and digits, but a digital copy of a person that can be categorized and whose behaviour may be predicted (cf. Gaylor).
Yet I do not believe that we should shut the internet down and go back to a time when data processing was a slow business; nor do I believe that everything electronic and digital is evil. In fact, we enjoy many advantages of the digital revolution and it would be ridiculous just to ignore them. My point is that as with everything new and unfamiliar, we have to learn how to deal with growing up in a new media environment. We have to start using our brains again and consider the impact this environment has on our lives and whether we are still ruling it or the other way around. We have to teach our children about responsible, well-informed usage and make sure they are able to develop their own personality. We have to encourage others to approach the matter critically, in an attentive, not a hostile way, and consider the influence it has on us as individuals as well as on the community.
Barker, Erik. “This Is the Best Way to Overcome the Fear of Missing Out.” Time, 2016. Accessed 20.04.2017.
Briggs, Saga. “6 Ways Digital Media Impacts the Brain.” Open Colleges, 2016. Accessed 28.04.2017.
Gaylor, Brett. “Do Not Track.” https://donottrack-doc.com/en/ Accessed 17.04.2017
Rouse, Margaret. “Big Data”. SearchCloudComputing, 2014. Accessed 26.04.2017.