Smartphone Addiction and Aristotle

Is your family full of tech-junkies? Do you think smartphones might be killing your relationships? Aristotle can help.

Photo credit: Babycakes Romero

The Feelings

More than a few artists have released projects that focus on antisocial behavior caused by smartphones. Eric Pickersgill released a series of photographs from which mobile devices have been removed. Take a peak.

Without the phones, the people in these shots look ridiculous. Part of that is the phone removal, of course, but that doesn't actually say much about phones. If you removed pizza or a newspaper from photos, diners and readers would look just as weird. Another part is the fact that these photos are staged. Pickersgill asked each subject to hold still while he removed the phones and took the pictures. No wonder they look bored and lifeless. They’ve been asked to stare at their hands.

A better series is from Babycakes Romero. The shots aren't posted, and the devices are left in, but the people depicted look just as sullen and disconnected. Here they are.

Of course the point is to start conversations, but their bias is clear. Neither collection allows for moments of human, tech-enabled connection. A much-needed text from a parent. A video watched together to break the ice on a first date. Contrary to what these collections imply, those moments do happen.

But as long as there’s been new technology, there’s been a cliché fear of that tech. So let’s move past art.

The Numbers

A recent study from Common Sense Media published by CNN reports that 50% of teens feel they are addicted to their mobile devices. On top of that, 34% of parents feel they argue with their kid every day about their device use.

A lot of anti-tech arguments strike me as alarmist noise, but numbers like that make it clear the problem is real.

But before we start shaking our heads and shaming our kids for their tech-junkie ways, have a look at this stat from the same report:
54% of children feel their parents check their devices too often.

So it’s not just a problem for rambunctious youths. It’s in our pockets too.

What do we do?

The Gold Standard

Faced with art and numbers like we’ve seen here, some parents decide mobile tech is the new gluten or cigarette and should never be around their kids ever. Ban them from school, school buses, and the earth. Others decide mobile tech is the best ever and hand their kids a phone anytime dinner needs cooking or Ellen needs watching.

Is there a better response? Aristotle says yup (in Greek).

Though he never condemned or endorsed smartphones (that we know of), the old boy did preach the golden mean—a moderate middle between excess and deficiency. He called it “the Middle state between” (in Greek).

Yes, mobile tech can be addictive. It can also help your kid in school, empower them to pursue their hobbies, and help you connect with them, believe it or not. Don’t throw it out completely, and don’t rely on it too heavily.

Apply the same common sense you apply to any other vice. Develop, demand, and demonstrate your own golden mean of mobile tech use. When you feel the urge, ask yourself: WWAF? (When Would Aristotle Facebook)?

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