To understand the allure of the smartphone we need to stop thinking of it as simply a device, a cultural anthropologist has said.
In just five years the iPhone and more recently other mass-market smartphones have become deeply embedded in our daily lives.
Everywhere, all the time, someone in our presence is gazing down into the little screen in their hands, paying a bill, scrolling through Facebook, texting or doing a million other things that transport them out of the present moment.
“The seductiveness of smartphones isn’t about the technology per se, it’s about what the technology affords and what it taps into,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Genevieve Bell, who studies how people relate to technology for tech giant Intel, as saying.
And, of course, it’s connection to the world and others that the smartphone offers us more than anything else.
“It is our channel of access to other people,” academic Rich Ling, whose book ‘Taken for Grantedness’ explores the role of the mobile in society, said.
“The mobile phone provides us with social cohesion to our tightest group of family and friends. If you do not have your phone, you become a problem for your social sphere,” Ling said.
There is also a physical aspect to our attachment. Because of its ability to store so much information and content, the smartphone has become a kind of digital treasure chest, engendering a sense of emotional attachment not usually seen with technological gadgets.
“It is a repository for a lot of personal information,” Ling said.
“In this way it is an important thing,” Ling said.
Bell agrees with Ling’s statement.
“They’re full of photos, text messages, addresses and maps and the things we have done,” she said.
“They’re this diary-meets-scrapbook - to have all of that stuff in the one place, it is incredibly seductive,” she said.
Google, too, is attempting to unlock the unique allure of the smartphone in a new study ‘The Meaning of Mobile’. The study, conducted by an anthropologist, found that more than anything else, it’s the promise of “hope” and “possibility” that is at the heart of our attachment.
“The mobile is a real-time Choose Your Own Adventure in which we are constantly writing and rewriting the stories we tell about ourselves,” the study said.
Often when a mobile phone user glances down at the little screen, something has happened. Someone has posted on Facebook, someone has texted them there are endless possibilities that could greet them.
Their life is happening via their phone. It’s the sense of anticipation, curiosity and excitement about all this, Google believes, that affords these little devices so much meaning.
For some, the drive to constantly check and recheck their phones can morph into a disorder, according to American psychologist Dr Larry D. Rosen, who popularised the idea with his 2012 book, iDisorder.
“My concern is that we have become very enmeshed with our technologies,” he says in the book.
“It’s gone past the stage of, ‘This might be a problem’ to, ‘It is a problem’ for many people,” he said.
According to him, technology today is “so user-friendly that the very use fosters our obsessions, dependence and stress reactions.”