Smartphones - They light up, are addictive, and we love them

Smartphones - They light up, are addictive, and we love them

When I transferred to a European University in the early nineties, I entered the building and was engulfed in a grey cloud of smoke. Students and professors stood in clusters at this northern Germany University campus smoking their hearts out ... or should I say lungs?

I had moved there from Mormon Utah; I was horrified and shocked. I hated this part of my move as I adjusted to life abroad. I complained to my boyfriend, "Babe, my clothes stink, my hair stinks, and I don't even smoke - Don't they see how intrusive they are?" He shrugged and gave the advice, "Take your shower when you get home and wear clothes that are easy to wash."

My Mom has told stories of her parents smoking in their Chicago home at the dinner table; it was part of life in the 50’s and no one thought anything of it until one day ... there was an anti-smoking movement; we realized what we were doing.

When I talk to parents and teens about their phone use, I feel like I am back in the days when smoking was a norm. The teens love their phones and chide, "We can't live without our phones and be social." They are partially right. If you have a teen and took their phone away their social life might cease to exist, and yet we know we should. Daily the press reports on social media and how our phones are hijacking our brains. FOMO, anxiety, stress, phone addiction, sexting and online bullying are just a few of the buzz words. Schools and parents are struggling to maintain control as Silicon Valley elites such as Tristan Harris are breaking away from their old workplaces, spilling the beans, they have created a beast. 

Just yesterday I was sitting at the University of Amsterdam at a speech on social media. The young woman was defending her Ph.D. and had asked for all phones to be put away and on silent. She was ignored as a little boy in front of me, apparently a relative, spent 80 minutes playing the same game as the screen lit up his face, distracting me. Flashes of light and a little man ran across bars on his screen as he maneuvered his phone to the left and right, not taking note of the stain glassed windows, the artwork, the painted beams, or the beautiful robes worn by the professors as this traditional ceremony was underway in the heart of Amsterdam. I had to wonder why he missed school for this event if he didn't take the time to look up once from his screen. I was then curious if he was the only one and turned behind on several occasions to see young adults checking their social media feeds as their friend talked about her research to distinguished professors.

Two evenings before this speech I had been in Het Concert Gebouw in Amsterdam to see Wynton Marsalis play the music of Duke Ellington. The young man in front of me spent a significant portion of the concert on Facebook and Instagram. I was visibly annoyed as the pictures of his friends, his chats, and likes where flashing in front of my sight, distracting me from the music and the vibe in the room. I scowled at him, and after the intermission, he changed seats with his partner, his phone out of my eyesight but still in use.

Today it would be unheard of for anyone to smoke inside a University, let alone class. Parents are ostracized for smoking at the table in front of their children, "How dare you set that example? The second-hand smoke you are giving off could harm your child!" Smokers would most certainly be called out and asked to leave for piping up in a beautiful concert hall and just think of the fines for smoking in a plane. Smokers have 'zones' at airports, in cities and outside of restaurants. Gone are the days of smokey hair and clothing.

You might enjoy your phone just as much as your cigarette, you might even be addicted to it, but there is a time and a place for enjoyment. We know smoking isn't healthy, it gives off a glow, it comes with a strong odor, and it is considered rude. Phones are no different; they just don't stink. 

Two hundred years ago in Mary Shelly's novel, Victor Frankenstein created a beast, not realizing what he was doing. Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel have created monsters we enjoy with Facebook and Snapchat. As a social worker, I would like to neutralize these beasts to help teens and parents cope. I cannot, we cannot go back, but something needs to be done. 

The anti-smoking movement started decades before I landed at that campus in Northern Germany.  President Kennedy created a commission on smoking and the hazards it brought with it that ended with the 1964 landmark report Smoking and Health, Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service. 

I don't think this movement will go much faster, but it is underway. How about starting by banning phones in schools just as France has done?  I would say a next step would be to work with the Center of Humane Technology and other movements to force the internet giants to take responsibility for what they have created; a beast that we all love and don't want to give up, yet need to tame.

–Allison Ochs, Social Worker M.S.W. , Coach, Expat, Mother of three, Wife

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash