Our Peculiar Fear of Certain Technology

It’s no surprise to most people who know me that I am in love with smart phone technology.

If you’ve seen a headline in the last five years, you also know that people are prone to hang-wringing about possible “addiction” to our devices.

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Here’s one headline: Giving up technology is as ‘stressful as getting married’ from The Daily Mail.

Citing software firm FrontRange, it contains such frightful tidbits as:

If the very thought of being without your smartphone brings you out in a cold sweat you could be suffering from a form of technology addiction.

New research has found that more than half of gadget owners (53 per cent) worldwide admit to suffering anxiety when they can’t use their phones and added having a tech detox was ‘as stressful as a trip to the dentist or even their own wedding day.’

and then this:

Almost half said they use their phone at least once every hour and two thirds claimed they couldn’t go without their smartphones for a day.

‘When people feel an uncomfortable sense of withdrawal when not online, we know that the relationship with technology is not being managed properly,’ said Dr Graham from the Capio Nightingale Hospital…

Well, that sure sounds dire.

It’s popular to raise this alarm these days. Take Conrad Gessner, a Swiss scientist who wrote an entire book about how the modern world overhwhelms people with data, which he calls “confusing and harmful” to the mind. Better put down my cell phone. Too bad Gessner lived in the 1500s and was talking about the printing press. Oops.

The truth is that smart phones are easy and useful to integrate into your regular, daily, habitual life. They are incredibly valuable. As such, it’s not really any surprise that they then become stressful to do without.

Try plugging in some other ultra-useful technology into these dire little warnings and you can see how stupid they sound.

Study finds half of people feel anxious when they can’t use their car.

Well, yes. My car is kind of necessary for my day to day life. Being a little anxious when it’s in the shop is perfectly understandable.

Your car makes a really great analogy, since cars are really integrated into modern life. For many people cars are second in material importance only to homes.

But my favorite technology for this thought experiment is electric indoor lighting. Not all electricity, mind you. JUST indoor lighting.

  • Half of people feel anxious when they can’t turn on their lights.
  • 45 percent said they use indoor lighting at least once and hour
  • Two thirds admitted they couldn’t go a day without turning on the lights
  • When people feel an uncomfortable sense of withdrawal when the lights aren’t on, we know that the relationship with technology is not being managed properly.

Joshua pointed out that a lot of people experience a serious discomfort when their electricity goes out. It’s unusual. It’s confusing. The sensations are strange. All of a sudden you have to figure out how to do things differently. Annoyingly differently.

It would clearly be absurd to say those people have a technology addiction or an unhealthy relationship with their light switches.

The same is true for smart phones. Oh no! A tool is really useful and so people use it a lot! Let’s panic! It’s simply a fear of technology, an attachment to the past, and we will get over it just as we got over our fear of the printing press.

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