"When the phone don't ring, you'll know it's me that ain't callin." -- Jimmy Buffett
If a tree falls hard in a forest and only "smart phone zombies" are around, does that tree make a sound?
It's worth pondering. Nowadays, thanks to "smart phones," if you entered a crowded bank for a purpose similar to that of Willie Sutton -- in other words, to rob it -- you'd probably have to announce your intentions by way of text message. On public transportation, the irresistible force of smart phones seems to induce a form of electronic narcolepsy within humans -- turning them into immovable objects -- causing untold numbers of its victims to routinely miss their stops. Of course the lucky ones -- those smart-phone zombies who never fall prey to such mindless frustration -- are probably using some sort of trip-planner app that literally TELLS them where to get off.
Yes, folks, the long-imagined "zombie apocalypse" seems to have befallen us and its deleterious results to humankind are vividly obvious. Its arrival shunts forth a de-evolutionary spiral into cognitive inertia by an entire planet afflicted with a kind of interactive overindulgence disorder. The worldwide pandemic some might call "smart-phone syndrome" seems far more virulent than Ebola -- for which a vaccine is now available -- or any other from among Planet Earth's exotic multitude of physical or mental maladies.
Its symptoms include: compulsive behaviors; substituting technology for relationships; physical ailments; "digital" insomnia; "cyber overload", smart-phone-separation anxiety; skewed priorities; and an altered sense of time and place.
Thanks to smart phones, the celebrated French philosopher Rene Descartes' succinctly astute proposition: "Cogito ergo sum" translated from Latin as "I think, therefore I am," is becoming increasingly open to debate. After all, with a properly app-loaded smart phone, it might be possible to avoid thinking altogether. Thus as the act of thinking becomes progressively more inconvenient, Descartes' proposition becomes commensurately less relevant. Flipped on its head, the philosopher's proposition becomes the starkly zombie-ish qualifying metaphor for our smart-phone-addled 21st century: "I think not, therefore I am not."
Widespread overuse of smart-phone technology seems to offer a stellar example of the consequences -- in this case, a cyber-opiated society - that often arise when desire vastly overshadows need. There's an abundance of solid yet somewhat preliminary evidence pertaining to lowered levels of cognizance related to excessive smart-phone use. A recent study published in Science Daily, for example , determined that excessive online browsing can, among other things, result in "squandered memories" and a "loss of important information".
"There is strong reason to suspect that frequent smart phone use and the constant connectivity it engenders interfere with memory formation," writes Ron Friedman, Ph.D. in this January's edition of Psychology Today. "The brain requires periods of rest. In a world where every free moment is spent refreshing email or responding to text messages, there are fewer opportunities for long-term memories to form."
Eric Fransen, a researcher at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, adds: "Working memory enables us to filter out information. When you are on Facebook, you are making it harder to keep the things that are 'online' in your brain that you need. And when you try to store many things in your working memory, you become less able to process information."
By the end of 2013, according to the technology company Cisco Systems, there were more smart phones on the planet than human beings. During its amazing growth spurt, smart-phone use has evolved to become the ultimate pervasive intrusion upon everyday lives of otherwise ordinary, normal human beings, even the apparent few who do not own one.
According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, "the mere presence of a cell phone -- even when not being used -- influences people's performance on complex mental tasks."
Meanwhile, a University of Essex study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships concluded that the presence of a cell phone "interferes with our ability to form close interpersonal connections."
The smartest phone in the room
Of course, humanity faced a different set of problems that seemed more immediate than the concerns about the long-term effect of electro-magnetic radiation that emerged during the period before phones became digitally "smart." Those early devices were just minimally-functional analog antiques called "cellys." "Hit me up on my celly" was boastful hipster vernacular announcing one's membership in the vanguard of early cell-phone owners. But part of that boastfulness often included loud, often in-artful conversations by callers who seemed hell-bent on making sure that everyone within a two-block radius knew that there was a cell-phone owner in their midst.
Today however, carrying a smart phone for the purpose of actually talking on it probably carries the same level of low-cachet social irrelevancy as sending handwritten letters through the mail. No longer are phones used for the singular purpose of vocally communicating one's thoughts, wishes, dreams, and desires to a specific individual.