Weapons of mass distraction

Over 40 percent of smartphone users suffer from nomophobia, as in no-mobile phobia—the anxiety of being disconnected from friends and family.

Published: 20th March 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st March 2020 06:20 PM   |  A+A-

mobile phones, cell phones

For representational purposes.

‘The characteristic traits of pure consciousness are: Complete serenity, clarity and freedom from distraction.’

—Srimad Bhagavatam (3.26.22)

Since World War II, we’ve heard about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This term had quite an impact across the world: While it made some uneasy, it made others feel secure and many were proud that their country was in possession of these weapons.

Since the early twenty-first century, the acronym WMD has come to mean Wireless Mobile Devices; and thanks to Apple, Samsung, Sony, HTC and a dozen other world players equipped with high-speed 4G mobile broadband, we now have 2.6 billion people on this planet using smartphones.

And what do we do on these gadgets? Check messages and emails, browse the Internet, attend to calls and so on. Over 40 percent of smartphone users suffer from nomophobia, as in no-mobile phobia—the anxiety of being disconnected from friends and family. People now need their mobiles near them even when they’re in the shower or having sex!

Perhaps a better meaning of WMD now is Weapons of Mass Distraction. We now have all the right technology available, but it probably exists for all the wrong reasons.

The Cost of Technology
Loneliness is the cost of this technology, and it has now become an epidemic. There is an expanding body of work that suggests a direct link between the increased use of smartphones and the growing percentage of loneliness. A study quoted by John Cacioppo, the director of the University of Chicago’s Centre for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience—who has been studying loneliness for over 20 years—states that nearly 20 percent of Americans felt lonely in the 1980s, but in 2010 the figure was closer to 45 percent.An experiment will reveal to you the mind-mobile phone nexus in your own life.

Weekly Fasting Day
In traditional monasteries, monks fast once a week; on the designated day they don’t eat cooked food and grains. They do this to spend more time in prayerful introspection. The modern variant of this culture could be fasting from our mobile phones.Fasting gives rest to your digestive system; the body releases toxins, and you feel an overall sense of wellness. Interestingly, when animals are sick, they refrain from eating.Just as these tips improve your external well-being, the occasional fasting from smartphones will bring immense benefits to your internal health. And, just like animals, if you feel ‘sick’, then get smart quickly and keep your smartphone aside. A lot of mental jumble will get flushed out of your system, and you’ll feel an overall sense of peace. If 24 hours of fasting from your mobile feels impossible, try a six-hour fast and see the difference for yourself.

What’s Wrong with the ‘Smart’ Phone?
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the phone itself, but there’s something seriously wrong with our addiction to it.There are at least two reasons why a smartphone can be so addictive.If you reach for your phone because you’re lonely, this gadget—with all the content that is instantly available to you—is not the answer. You need to connect with the real world, with people, with life. The electronic world is merely a virtual world.

Secondly, a kind of urgency grips one who is in possession of a gadget, because you know that you can access information from anywhere in the world with just a few clicks. A single tap of the screen could connect you to someone in Alaska! It’s easy to see why this gadget in your hand is so attractive.
But look at the flip side too: Since you have a smartphone and can access just about anyone, and any information whenever you choose, you tend to think that this makes you efficient and the phone can solve all your problems, including personal ones, for there are websites and blogs that talk about everything, from relationships to sexuality to medical problems.

But life’s complex issues—despite all the material available online—aren’t going to be solved through your phone. Addressing the real and deep issues in life requires time, human involvement and effort; after all, quick fixes don’t work in interpersonal conflicts or in complex communication problems. Since the phone gives you an illusion of control or access, you may wonder why you are unable to quickly sort out nagging personal issues with family or friends. These problems need patience, forgiveness, reflection, prayer and grace—the more subtle aspects of life are in play here. But if you are used to making hurried attempts to address all problems you could drift further away from what you seek.

Keep your phone away and spend quality time with your loved ones. Yes, I know it seems hard to put away something that provides you with a virtual reality, a high-speed life where emoticons, messages and instant responses suck out of you your ability to pause, introspect and connect. But the truth is that it’s not efficiency—doing things right—but rather effectiveness—doing the right things—that will enable you to experience deep, fulfilling relationships.

British comedian David Mitchell aptly explained our plight when he said, ‘When the phones first appeared they were so cool. Only when it was too late did people realise they are as cool as the electronic tags on remand prisoners.’

The Enchanting Captor
The electronic screen is captivating. Often, at airports, the news screens invite waiting passengers to see the ‘breaking news’ and even if you don’t want to your head instinctively turns towards the screen. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it’s just another distraction in your outside world that serves to take you away from yourself. And if you are someone who is already disconnected from himself, or dealing with painful mental health issues or other stresses, you urgently need to connect with your inner world. Fancy electronic or digital gadgets have a grip on people to the point that they can’t think for themselves anymore.

We pride ourselves on creating machines, computers and phones that can now think like humans, but it’s a matter of shame if humans begin to think and live like machines.Smartphones are deceptive; we don’t even realise we are their victims. No one imagines that a gadget can be a cause of anxiety. That’s because we assume we are smart and we are in control of the phone. Little do we know that it’s the phone that has trapped us. I guess that’s why it’s called the smartphone!

I’ve met hundreds of men and women who are able to celebrate life more simply because they have said no to Facebook and other social networking sites at least once a week. Your mind could protest and tell you that these apps are ‘free’ and you should make the most of that. But are they really free? Read the next chapter to find out about the heavy price you pay for spending excessive time on your gadgets and online.

Excerpted with permission from Mind Your Mind: Three Principles for Happy Living, published by Hachette.

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