11 God in a Giga-Byte: Are we guilty of Phone Worship? - Eddy D'Sa

posted May 9, 2018, 11:20 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated May 9, 2018, 11:21 AM ]
I remember the day I got my first smartphone. Upgrading from a "dumb phone," I was dazzled. Crisp and clear pictures. E-mail and calendar in one place. Ready access to Twitter, Facebook, and any search engine I wanted. In the words of the ad, I could now "move at the speed of instantly." But as months went by, I realised my smartphone was not a neutral tool that would leave my life unaffected. My days started to change, sometimes drastically. It began with the e-mail. I started checking it almost obsessively. Wake up, turn over, and check e-mail. Get coffee, check e-mail. Then came social media. I could now post pictures directly to Facebook. Yet, rarely did I consider whether my 300 "friends" needed to see my weekend adventures. Twitter became my news source. My thoughts started to fragment into smaller and smaller pieces. Oddly enough, even though I now held in my hand the key to unparalleled productivity, at the end of the workday, I felt a new level of exhaustion. It got so out-of-hand that I finally turned off my digital news notifications, unplugged from Twitter and other social networks, and subscribed to home delivery of a print newspaper. It was life-changing. Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins. I was just less anxious and less addicted. And I'm embarrassed about how much free time I had — I managed to read half a dozen books, took up a hobby, and (I think) became a more attentive husband and father.

We have spent much of the past few years discovering that the digitisation of news is ruining how we collectively process information. Technology allows us to burrow into echo chambers, exacerbating misinformation and polarisation and softening up society for propaganda. With artificial intelligence making audio and video as easy to fake as text, we're entering a hall-of-mirrors dystopia, what some are calling an "information apocalypse." The sociality of digital media is of visibility without touchability. We erect transparent glass chambers and post updates of what remains unseen. And we're all looking to the government and to Facebook for a fix. But don't you and I also have a part to play? Most of all, I realised my personal role as a consumer of news in our broken digital news environment.

Lev Everson, ex-CEO of Twitter says: "Today's media is broken and social media is the most broken, manipulative, aggressive, disinformative, non-user selective, disruptive and addictive, and a worse health risk than obesity for kids and young adults. For those of you who are ecology-conscious and environment-concerned, it would be pertinent to note research findings by McMaster University, Canada which state: "If trends continue, ICT will account for 14% of the worldwide carbon footprint by 2020." For every action of yours on that little gadget, there are networks and data-centres making it happen, and they consume a lot of energy to make that happen. The Journal of Cleaner Production: "The most damaging devices to the environment are smartphones. 85% of their emission impact comes from their production; they have a short life which drives further production of "newer" models and an extraordinary amount of waste." Disconcerting?