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Grand tech illusion

Don’t let the companies fool you: the only way to end your mobile phone addiction is to switch it off yourself

brunch Updated: Jul 07, 2018 20:20 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Mobile addiction,World Health Organisation,Disease Classification Manual
Manufacturers aren’t going to make phones less addictive anytime soon

A new disorder and mental health condition just got added to the World Health Organisation’s Disease Classification Manual. It’s characterised by a pattern of “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other areas of important functioning”. Surprisingly, it’s a Gaming Disorder. And many mental health experts feel there should have been one more addition in the same category. A Mobile Phone Disorder.

I’m not dissing the mobile phone, even though it may seem so. My last two columns were on the shortfalls of mobile phone manufacturers, and now I’m calling using the device a mental disorder. We are all just innocent pawns in a specifically engineered plan to keep us completely addicted to our mobile phones. And more so in the last few days, due to a new grand illusion.

The science

It’s a scientific fact that the chemicals that explode in our brain when we get a new message, a ‘like’ on our posts or a comment on an online photo are exactly the same as when a drug user gets a hit or an alcoholic downs a drink. Once we’ve experienced that, we want more all the time. Humans have a strong response to stimuli and are compulsive clickers and button pressers. When lights, colours and sounds come alive around us, we are programmed to respond and are delighted when the device that is with us 24x7 provides us a steady flow of that all day and night. All that an app programmer and a mobile phone OS maker needs is to tap into that psychology. We are hooked for life!

92 per cent of people respond to a message on WhatsApp within six seconds, 87 per cent of people read their social media posts while on their lunch break, 99 per cent of people have their phones within arm’s reach 21 hours a day

The numbers

Just how addicted are we? Here are some stats: 92 per cent of people respond to a message on WhatsApp within six seconds, 87 per cent of people read their social media posts while on their lunch break, 99 per cent of people have their phones within arm’s reach 21 hours a day, 70 per cent of people take their phones with them to the bathroom and 81 per cent of people check their phones at a funeral and/or a wedding. And these numbers are growing at an astonishing pace.

The founders

Steve Jobs, the man credited with perfecting the smartphone, restricted his children from using his own products. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” he said in an interview. Bill Gates didn’t give his kids phones until they were 14. Most CEOs of the hottest tech device companies strictly limit their children’s screen time. Reflect on that deeply for a moment. They restrict usage of the very devices they make and sell to us! Do they know something that the rest of us don’t?

The solution?

A silver lining seemed to have arrived in the past few days. Both Google and Apple announced that they have realised that people are addicted to their phones, that it was serious and that they would be incorporating various features deep into their mobile operating system to make us more aware of our addiction. There’s even a brand new term for it now. Tech Wellness! Hallelujah, we’ve been saved! Or have we?

Humans have a strong response to stimuli and are compulsive clickers and button pressers

The ruse

This is another Grand Tech Illusion. A sleight of hand where the card shown isn’t really the one you chose. I know I’m in controversial territory, but I have facts to back me up.

Whenever the world finds a negative in a particular business, sales suffer. The best way to counter that is to show that you’re a business that is concerned and responsible. That’s why McDonald’s sells fresh salads along with their burgers and fries. That’s why Pepsi and Coke sell Smartwater and other health drinks along with their sugar-laden colas. That’s why car companies sell hybrids along with their gas-guzzling monster SUVs. Now tech companies are concerned about their consumers, and are adding features that will take care of their addiction. They can now use their phone even more as the software has inbuilt safety features.

At the end of the day, your mobile phone is in your hands. Turn it off when you get home or when you’re with other people

Remember, the companies aren’t saying they will reduce the features that make phones addictive in the first place. They are only adding monitoring that reports on usage patterns. At the end of the day, all these companies have shareholders to answer to. They aren’t going to make their phones less addictive, leading to lower sales and profits. They want you to feel warm and loved in this new illusion cocoon they’ve built for you.

Understand the problem for what it is. At the end of the day, your mobile phone is in your hands. Turn it off when you get home or when you’re with other people. Both you and the world will survive. I guarantee it!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

Techilicious appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, July 8, 2018

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First Published: Jul 07, 2018 20:20 IST