flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2021-06-07

The bemoaning of people's smartphone usage

A common trope nowadays involves bemoaning people's extensive smartphone usage (often couched in the language of ‘addiction’).

Typically, an assumption is made that someone on their smartphone is necessarily not interacting with other people. This is obviously not true; people regularly use their smartphones to connect with various people and maintain those connections. Sure, they might e.g. not be interacting with the stranger sitting next to them on the train, who they'll probably never encounter again. But i can say from experience that conversations with strangers in public does not necessarily make for an enjoyable experience: casual sexism / racism / queerphobia / transphobia is not fun for many of us. (“F!@#ing Asians, taking our jobs and spreading viruses”? Just because i'm Anglo, don't think i'm going to endorse your racist codswallop.)

There's also an assumption that in-face interactions are necessarily always better for everyone. They're not, and i find that perspective effectively ableist in particular and anti-(neuro)diversity more generally. i have significant sensory processing issues, and following someone's speech - particularly in loud environments and/or environments with various other people talking nearby - can require a lot of effort[a]. Being able to interact with people via text / audio / video chat can be much more accessible and appropriate. And of course, a number of people aren't in a position where they can easily go out to socialise, or go out at all, even when there's no pandemic to consider.

Then, too, sometimes being able to ‘escape’ to using their smartphones in social situations is something that allows some people to participate in social environments in the first place. Not everyone is energised by in-person interactions, for various reasons. Being able to take a ‘time-out’ can help recover some energy for continuing to participate. In the circles i move in, taking some time to faff on your smartphone is not inherently considered rude and/or anti-social - people often understand it can be a useful mechanism for maintaining one's mental health (or what's left of it, as the case may be).

i'm almost certain there are people who are actually addicted to their smartphones (in the clinical sense rather than in the moralising sense). i'm pretty sure there are many people who are spending time on their smartphone in a way that they themselves might acknowledge to be detrimental to their mental health. i'm not claiming otherwise. i'm just saying: consider other people's lives and experiences before leaping into making totalising assumptions about what's best for everyone and what people ‘should’ be doing.

🏷 neurodiversity,politics,sociology


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[a] Indeed, i've recently been realising that sensory processing stuff might be significantly contributing to my Chronic Fatigue, given the amount of effort i have to put in to filtering the amount of sensory input my system receives.