These days, no one looks up to the sky. No one looks at their friends. Walking from class to class, car to building, or bedroom to bathroom, we cannot help but reach for our phones. Every notification during class is an itch that only the strongest can resist scratching until dismissal. We’ve habituated ourselves so deeply we hardly notice.
On an individual and relational level, smartphone usage makes us less humane. The argument I will make is indeed simplistic and narrow, but my intention is to encourage honest self reflection, not to write a treatise.
With smartphones we are uninteresting humans who are disinterested in the world around us. The sound of birdsong and friends laughing seems mundane and worthless when we can conjure whatever kind of pre-packaged emotional stimulation we desire with our phones. And why look at the real leaves on the real trees if someone took (and edited) a really nice autumn picture? The content on smartphones only actually exists as many different, very small lights. Of course the tree pictured does exist, but the picture is not the tree. It is not the smells, roots, or habitat, the growing and living thing.
An etymology is helpful here: “media” is the Latin word for “middle,” or, in other words, the thing or space separating two other things. Everything on a smartphone is mediated reality; that is to say, not real. We are often dissatisfied with our worlds when they don’t match the idyllic (read: fabricated) worlds we see on Instagram; the real, living colors of the earth don’t seem to match up to the edited, altered, and mediated reproduction.
In actuality, the reality around us is better than the constructed, mediated reality that we can control, precisely because it is more real and outside of our control.
Smartphones change, for the worse, the way we encounter art. We are so inundated with the most vibrant colors, sharpest lines, and highest resolution through phones, that paintings and real life seem banal. It used to be that men would weep at the sight of a beautiful painting, or even convert at the glory of an icon. Nevermind that it took weeks, months, years to perfect that painting. We’d rather swipe through TikTok videos and mindlessly scroll through Facebook.
When we constantly have earbuds in, music is devalued similarly to visual art. We use music for mental and emotional stimulation too often, and it is reduced from beautiful art to a kind of drug. Don’t get me wrong: I love music, but learning to sit in silence and appreciate it makes music more meaningful.
We think thoughts less the more time we waste on smartphones. The kind of thinking to which I am referring is not how to respond to this text or that. The neglected way of thinking is the wrestling with ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions. If there are always distractions in our ears, eyes, and hands, there are always barriers in our minds to thinking good thoughts. It’s a difficult enough task to merely live; how much more difficult when you cannot sit alone with your own thoughts?
Constant stimulation, be it visual, aural, or that feeling when you get a “like,” is not good for anyone. It cheapens the real sensations, the beauty of the sounds in the woods and colors of leaves, and the real love from real friends who are right next to you. Use smartphones, but do not allow them to use you. Spend your time and your love wisely. Real life is a good thing — don’t waste any of it.
Danny Rognlie is a senior studying English.