Photo: Rawpixel. Source: Pxhere
In just a few short years, smartphones have taken over immense swaths of our lives. Our phones are stuck to our hands like glue. It’s almost impossible to imagine modern life without them. We use their GPS function to get directions, we consult them for the news of the day, and – above all – we use our phones to stay connected to work, family, and friends. We’re hooked on the tiny jolt of epinephrine that we get every time there’s a little chime or buzz telling us someone likes what we posted.
This new, convenient technology is what’s behind the meteoric rise of Apple, Samsung, Facebook, Tencent, and the other data giants. We really don’t know whether it’s good or bad for us to have watches that vibrate every time we get an email. We’re part of the biggest psychological experiment in human history, with over half the world’s population now connected to the internet and – in the US – folks spending about 6 hours per day with digital media, most of that on mobile devices.
Source: Kleiner Perkins
When I was a teen I decided that I was drinking too much soda. So, I went “cold turkey” and just stopped. For weeks, I didn’t know what to do with my hands – I was so used to holding a soda can and taking occasional sips. It was hard to cut that habit out of my life, but I was able to “white knuckle” the change.
Our digital devices are much more essential to modern life, though, than any particular kind of food. We use our smart devices to manage our time, money, work, relationships, and so much more. Coders know how to design the apps to appeal to the reward centers in our brains. In fact, the use (and misuse) of addictive responses is one of the key ethical dilemmas in information technology. I worry that 30 years from now we’ll look at the ubiquity of smartphones today in the same way we now scoff at old movies where everyone – EVERYONE – is smoking cigarettes.
For now, we’re running a massive, global, 4-billion-user-trial where we don’t really know the long-term effects of all the screen time and haptic feedback and constant connections and everything else. Just be sure that the next time you check your phone, a developer somewhere is smiling.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”