Keep Your Head Up

Another one.  My, my, this little streak has been going for a whole three months now…now it’s a journalist named Adam Popescu, in full damage-control mode.  “Let’s play a game:  The next time you’re sitting among a group of friends or out on a date, measure how much time passes before someone grabs their phone to look at it.”  He cites Judith Martin, the redoubtable Miss Manners, who avers:  “That’s when dinner ends.”

Then Popescu effortlessly segues into full-throttle positivist-speak.  “The average human head weighs 12 pounds.  Bending the neck to look at the smartphone “leads to incremental loss of the curve of the cervical spine.”  Apparently there is a new report in The Spine Journal.  Take a look at it, friends.  If you’re looking for that hard evidence.  Popescu continues:  “Posture has been shown to affect mood”, etc.

He cites more statistics:  75 percent of smartphone users believe that they’re essentially exempt from the deleterious effects of smartphone use.  And they are mistaken.  Lots and lots of statistics.  Kids 8 to 18 spend more than 7.5 hours a day looking at media.  For so many, it’s probably more like 12, but who’s counting?  These people are gone.  And then the Sean Parker contribution to this sparkling new fervor is duly trotted out.  Smartphones were designed to be addictive.  Deliberately.  Sean Parker, former executive at Facebook.  He should know, right?  It was “designed to consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible”, through the incessant cycle of dopamine shots to the brain accompanying “likes”.  How does one counteract such a regime?

Popescu:  “You’re probably reading this story on a mobile device right now, and that’s OK! We’re not here to tell you to throw away your iPhone and abandon digital media.”  As long as he gets read, how can he complain?  The dilemma of the modern journalist.  Getting eyeballs is the goal, no matter how.  “We’re not here to tell you to throw away your iPhone and abandon digital media…”  Well, let’s talk about digital media.  Unparallelled means of dissemination and all that.  The trouble is, with mobile, it’s always there.  If you have a desktop, you leave it at home.  One must assert at this juncture that any use of the internet is arguably problematic.  I am writing on a platform that uses the internet for communication now, obviously.  I am trying to reach you all out there who still have some vestige of autonomy.  I recommend, limit your use of the internet overall.  I am here to tell you to throw away your smartphone.  I don’t believe there is a way to use them that obviates the entraining properties inherent in this constant companion.  Yes, theoretically it might be possible.  What percentage of people fall into that category? 5 percent?  Less?  I ask you to think on this one really hard.  Popescu:  “But like many addictions, admitting a problem is the first step to treatment.  And, mercifully, the fix isn’t anti-tech–it’s pro-conversation, according to Dr. [Sherry] Turkle.”  Is that what a doctor tells someone shooting up 50ccs of heroin every day?  “Oh, you don’t have to stop cold turkey, or even cut back.  Just talk to your friends a bit once in awhile.”  You are dreaming, Adam Popescu.  You are too close to the problem!  Sure, the user who’s doing 30cc of heroin a day isn’t going to say you have to stop altogether.  Just get it down to the level I’m using it at.  Then you’ll be like me.

Popescu again:  “The simplest answer for all of us is biblical:  Do unto others–and maybe without clutching your smartphone.”  But that doesn’t work in this context.  They’re all doing it!  If you do unto others as you would have them do unto you (all things considered), inattention would remain on the same upward curve it’s been on for 10 years, and it’s been steep.  I suppose one doesn’t exactly like being interrupted when a friend starts staring at the smartphone in one’s presence, not always anyway, but you do it, so you can’t complain.  Since I’ve never owned a smartphone, I have a rather rarefied perspective on all this.   I don’t know all the ins and outs.  Thank the fates.

I am happy and proud to “denigrate the digerati“, as Mr. Popescu or Ms. Turkle would never do.  But Popescu and Turkle are liberals, and “personal autonomy” is sacrosanct.  (See my previous post for more on this.)  Maybe this is a good time to trot out the old pronouncement, immortalized as the inscription carved into the cupola of Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.  You don’t even have to go there to confirm the wording, just watch “Born Yesterday”:  “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  Now the equivocation begins.  Implying that this thing amounts to a “tyranny”, isn’t that going a bit far, Mr. Westling?  But it’s not.  It’s not.

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