Smartphone users have become “human snails who carry our houses in their pockets,” with a tendency to ignore friends and family in favor of their device, according to a milestone. study.
A team of UCL anthropologists spent more than a year documenting the use of smartphones in nine countries around the world, from Ireland to Cameroon, and found that, far from being trivial toys, people felt the same way about their devices as they did about their homes.
“The smartphone is no longer just a device we use, it has become the place where we live,” said Professor Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any time, whether it’s during a meal, a meeting, or another shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ with their smartphone.” .
This phenomenon was leading to the “death of proximity” when it comes to face-to-face interaction, he said.
“This behavior, and the frustration, disappointment or even offense it can cause, is what we call the ‘death of proximity.’ We are learning to live with the danger that even when we are together physically, we can be alone socially, emotionally or professionally. “
If there is a specific cause for that transformation, the researchers suggest it may be chat apps like WhatsApp, which they call the “heart of the smartphone.” “For many users in most regions, a single application now represents the most important thing the smartphone does for them”: LINE in Japan, for example, WeChat in China, and WhatsApp in Brazil.
“These apps are the platforms where siblings come together to care for elderly parents, proud parents send endless pictures of their babies, and migrants reconnect with their families; they are the means by which you can remain a grandparent even if you live in another country. “
Unlike many explorations of smartphone use, the study specifically focused on older adults, “those who do not consider themselves to be young or old.”
“At first, the emphasis on older people may seem strange because we’ve gotten used to focusing on the young, we once thought of natural smartphone users,” the researchers wrote, “however, a focus on older people has helped to extract the study of smartphones from any specific demographic niche so that they can be considered as the possession of humanity as a whole. “
Even with that different approach, researchers find that smartphones are basic necessities around the world. “The smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the home itself (and possibly the workplace as well) in terms of the amount of time we live in it while awake,” they conclude, coining the term “transportable home” for describe the effect. “We are always ‘at home’ on our smartphone. We have become human snails that carry our house in our pockets ”.
The researchers also describe how this “home” may be far from being a place of respite, as work communications and social media have the potential to invade.
They observe: “In other ways, the smartphone can reduce the previous experience of home as a refuge. Employees can now be expected to stay in touch with their work, for example, even after leaving the workplace. A child bullied by other students at school now finds little or no respite upon returning home. “
But Miller cautioned against too negative an opinion. “The smartphone is helping us create and recreate a wide range of helpful behaviors, from reestablishing extended families to creating new spaces for health care and political debate,” he said. Only by looking at vastly different uses and contexts can we fully understand the consequences of smartphones for the lives of people around the world. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism