Are Smartphones the Modern Cigarette?

Recently I observed a group of friends in their 20's standing outside a restaurant. In perfect unison they stood staring at their smartphones. Nearby, another group of friends in their 50's were also standing outside a restaurant. In perfect unison they stood smoking cigarettes.

Both groups looked awkward and appeared to be filling time with a pointless activity, which made we wonder, are smartphones becoming the modern cigarette? 

The Control of Time       

For many smokers, the act of smoking can provide a mechanism for regulating and controlling time. Time is a complex and overwhelming concept - studies have found that when people are confronted by time, it can lead to reflection on mortality and changes in daily behavior. Smoking can provide a way to control time, by allowing people to segment their day into smaller sections and avoid moments of emptiness. 

In the same way, smartphones may have become the modern mechanism for regulating and controlling time. People use their phone to start the day, take a break from work, prepare for bed, and fill any moments of emptiness with action. Could it be that we consume a 'data packet a day' to help control time?

The Control of Emotion

For many smokers, the act of smoking can provide a mechanism for regulating and controlling their anxiety and emotion. Studies have found that many obsessive behaviors (like smoking, drinking and over-eating) are actually coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions - allowing people to suppress their feelings with habitual activity.

In the same way, smartphones may have become the modern mechanism for controlling anxiety and emotion. When people feel awkward in a social situation, or frustrated at work, or lonely at home, they can use their smartphone to suppress their feelings with facts and updates. Could it be that we 'chain check' to help control emotion?      

The Modern Cigarette

Realizing the potential parallels between smoking and smartphone use can be uncomfortable. Smartphones have many benefits - I couldn't imagine living without mine - but I also suspect that using any product to control time and suppress emotion isn't healthy.

So what do you think, are smartphones the modern cigarette? 

6 comments:

Ami Sanyal said...

Absolutely agree. Takes me back to our discussion about the merits of John's Phone

Nick Black said...

Hi Ami - Thanks for the comment. Definitely remember that conversation on John's phone (http://johnsphones.org/), but maybe that's a little too disconnected for me. Would be very tough to live without Google Maps.

Jared said...

That's quite an interesting idea, shame that phones aren't as social as cigarettes. Well - at least you don't have to go outside.

Nick Black said...

That's true Jared... Also less deadly :)

Dave said...

On more than one occasion, if I bring up a difficult topic with someone, they compulsively reach for their phone and start scrolling for a distraction.

Wes said...

Very poignant observation Nick. Both cell phones and cigarettes have the ability to calm one's nerves, fill gaps in time, give the illusion of doing something, lest society think you're crazy to just stare into space while waiting for the bus, or waiting for your turn , or waiting for the doctor to see you. In this fast paced society, doing nothing is seen as weird and suspicious, hence the need to grab the phone even if there are no new notifications.