A Society Distracted

The Social Impact of the IPhone

sonya cicci
May 2, 2014 · 12 min read

A Society Distracted

Written by: Sonya Cicci

Many argue that we are swapping our personal relationships with an electrical connection. Having face to face communications with others and being in the physical presence of somebody is something we will never be able to achieve through the means of technology. This is true, but couldn’t we argue that for some it makes our relationships deeper on a more personal level? Through the access of the IPhone, society is given 24/7 access to social media. To some, this is addicting and while we build and strengthen old relationships and create new ones over social media, we might also be breaking and distancing our physical relationship with others whom we are already close to. Considering the IPhone with social media, according to Hermes, popular culture provides an “alternative sense of community…it suggests itself as an area of mere entertainment” (Hermes 11). She also states that it creates a barrier between public and private relations where we can practice fictional rehearsal of our life, where one can work through the anxieties and uncertainties of their lives to make the best life possible (Hermes 3). Via the IPhone and social media such as Facebook or Twitter, we essentially can “build our own community.” An alternative community in which we can include some and exclude others in a way that provides individual growth and entertainment without this anxiety or uncertainty. While it’s true the IPhone follows Hermes ideas to where it strengthens our “social community” via social media where one can practice ways to cope and deal with their relationships without that physical interaction, the IPhone has socially disruptive consequences that works against Hermes ideas of community building. The IPhone sacrifices our physical capability to be empathetic due to swapping our personal relationships with an electrical connection and also threatens the safety of the secrets we hold in our private lives. As a cultural artifact, the IPhone is designed where it pushes us in a certain way that creates this community where we see a lot of this socially disruptive behavior in the physical world, but primarily these social disruptions solely depends on the person using it.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with one of your peers or simply a stranger you don’t know? Half the time they tend nod their heads to show us their listening and half the time, maybe they don’t do anything at all. Bottom line they probably haven’t retained any of the information you just told them. It’s frustrating when you can’t get somebody’s attention, especially if you care about them. On a personal level, I have experienced this on numerous occasions causing me to give a bad rep to the iPhone.

In the year of 2007, the IPhone was invented by Steve Jobs and his team of Apple. Since then, this device became the new “fad” technology of our generation. It is now so vastly widespread among emerging adults, it’s unusual to see a person without one. Specifically, we direct the use of this cultural artifact to teens entering into early adulthood whom are starting to explore their personal relationships. This mainly includes mid-teens all the way up to college students. Of course, this is not limited only to these categories.

The iPhone offers more than 775,000 Apps that allow us to personalize our phone’s to assist in our safety, navigations, interests, values and beliefs that we have. Clinical psychologist Amanda Gordon, argues, “Mobile handsets are now considered a life partner for most, holding valuable information and helping people to carry out their day-to-day lives through email, calendar, weather apps and social networking” (Smartphones). We use iPhones to organize our lives more productively; by simply viewing the Apps that one uses, we can essentially gather an overall understanding of the necessities in one’s personal life. Conforming to Hermes ideas, these Apps create this sort of self-organization that aids in self-understanding. In self-understanding we start to develop and find our individual personality that best suits us, which essentially, helps to work through the anxieties and uncertainties we have in life and organize the world in a way that only we can understand. For example, Dan Woolley of Colorado Springs was caught in the collapse of Hotel Montana after an earthquake struck Haiti. He was there to help aid certain parts of Haiti and thus, had medical apps on his IPhone. When caught under the collapse, he used this app to treat his injuries before going into shock. Then, he used his phone’s map to identify his surroundings and find a better area to where he thought he could receive help. Essentially, the IPhone saved his life all because of the Apps he downloaded for his personal use (Dybwad). These personal Apps are the guidelines that help make life easier. People are now becoming dependent on their IPhone for even the simple tasks of living. Therefore, the constant use of the IPhone becomes unavoidable, and thus, becomes an aspect of the socially disruptive behavior we see in society.

It is not only IPhone apps that help aid in our self-understanding, but we can say that 24/7 access to social media via the IPhone does the same work, but additionally aids in community building. We are sharing our thoughts with one another that achieves Hermes ideas of cultural citizenship by, “allowing us to fantasize about the ideals and hopes that we have for society, as well as to ponder what we fear” (Hermes 3). On Facebook, we friend request people we don’t actually know or would never physically confront ourselves with, just to feel we belong and connect with others. Hence, we “ponder what we fear,” or face the uncertainties we have in life, just because we can. Essentially this creates our own optimum, in other words alternative community, in which not only represents fantasy relationships that we hope to have with others, but allows us to include and exclude whoever we feel like. Therefore, the IPhone allows for 24/7 community building. Although the IPhone does achieve the work that Hermes describes, due to every minute access to the IPhone and social media, in some cases we are compromising our physical relationships due to our lack of empathy.

As society more often communicates and connects with one other via social networking, we are “caring less” about others and more about ourselves and our online relationships. On the contrary, psychology research professor Jeffery Jenson suggests that we are the “more empathetic generation,” and moreover, that the statement associated with our current generation “caring less” is unfairly stereotyped (Jenson). Although this statement isn’t directed towards everyone, there is plenty of evidence to support the claim that our generation’s ability to empathize has decreased significantly. Additionally, it is far-fetched to state that we are more empathetic than our previous generations as his only evidence to support his claim says that, “empathy is in our human nature” (Jenson).

A study conducted at the University of Michigan Institute for Social research found that college students have decreased their empathy by 40% since 1979 (O’Brien). In this fast pace generation, individuals are so vastly focused on our “hypercompetitive success,” that we often spend less time to empathize with others (O’Brien). College students have changed their expectations of success as we now feel the need to get ahead due to the increasing competition among our generation (finding and holding a career). We personalize our iPhones by using these Apps that are the essential guidelines to making our lives easier, less stressful and more productive. Because of this, the constant use of the iPhone becomes unavoidable. We devote so much of our time to our success, that who has time for others? Reporter for the Boston Globe, Keith O’Brien suggests that “If we don’t have time to develop a physical relationship with our peers and family, then we cannot see another person’s signal for help.” We might spend our night on our IPhone talking and connecting with people over social networks or updating our “friends” on the current status of our lives, but in doing so, we are not spending time in the physical presence of them, losing the opportunity to gain “valuable interpersonal experiences,” thus causing not only students but society in general to spend less time with one another and more time with themselves. So, couldn’t we argue that decreased empathy in our generation would compromise Hermes ideas of the physical belonging and bonding with others in society? This essentially, is considered a social disruption within a community. The lack of empathy ultimately is the reason I’m being constantly ignored by my friends. Due to their self-imposed interest, I feel less of bond or connection with them. Even in social groups; if someone doesn’t impose any interest or empathy to what you’re saying, wouldn’t that make us feel like we don’t belong? This essentially, is what the iPhone is initiating through our self-imposed interest and the use of social networking.

This leads to the question, “Is social networking ruining real life relationships?” Yes, partly it is. Like my previously mentioned experience, we see how people are ignoring others due to their self-imposed interest. This bothers me and frankly, if someone isn’t willing to give me the time of day why should I give them mine? But, we can only target this to the people who are physically and mentally addicted to the iPhone. Many question, “How can an iPhone be addicting?” According to Divorce Lawyers and Family Law Attorneys of the corporation Cooley and Handy, they emphasize that “the Internet is addictive and “smartphones” have only exacerbated the problem by giving us 24/7 access to the Internet” (Is). To some, the smartphone is only an enabler to the self-destructive behavior in ruining our physical relationship with others because this person will be far more interested in their social life on the internet than the lives of others; even if it involves the people they’re close to. New research has shown that it’s “compulsive behaviors like these that are potentially destructive to our relationships as drugs are” (Is).

Like illicit drug use, what we do online releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This dopamine helps control the brain’s pleasure and reward centers that helps regulates movement and emotional responses. In turn, we see these rewards and take action to take a step closer to achieve them. Waiting for a text, Facebook message, or even achieving a level in a game (ie: angry bird) excite these neurons in the brain, releasing neurotransmitters creating this feeling of pleasure and happiness. As a result, we become obsessive by these “pleasure inducing experiences” and begin to constantly access what we find pleasurable. Even if the rewards are meaningless, some have the compulsion to for example, accumulate friends on Facebook and see this as some type of reward (maybe popularity?). This “compulsion loop” consists of the same idea that forms the basis of nicotine, gambling and cocaine abuse/addictions. Humans who fit within this category experience feelings of withdrawal or a physical discomfort when separated from their smartphone. Not all people who own an iPhone fall into this category but those who do are abusing the use of the iPhone and essentially, ruining their physical relationships with the people they care about due to this addiction (Lindstrom).

On the contrary, even the people who spend most of their time on their iPhone could possibly be renewing old relationships or developing new ones. We can’t always assume that people are ruining all relationships just because they are addicted to their smartphone. Through the internet, social media, and even something as simple as texting encourages to create new relationships and bond with other people we may not know. Hermes believes that popular culture “truly has the power to make people bond and feel that they belong” (Hermes 2). The access of internet (social media) through the iPhone does exactly this work. Not just by creating or renewing relationships with others, but by using social media as a way to relate and agree with like-minded fans or even simply, to disagree with other people.

Ultimately, it’s up to the person to develop this physical relationship and refrain from overusing social media. But after all is said and done, we could still argue that for many sending a quick text, Facebook message, or phone call when they aren’t physically with a person they care about emotionally strengthens their relationship. We can directly relate this to one of Hermes ideas of popular culture. She illustrates that, “Popular culture makes such bonding easy for a potential reader based on how engaging with it rewards us on many different levels of pleasure and reflection” (Hermes 11). Having the iPhone doesn’t only limit us to texting and calling someone, but we also use social media to show empathy and love for one another on a variety of levels. For example, we use Facebook to post pictures and captions about the people we love, hate or care about. This isn’t only limited to Facebook, but there is Instagram and Twitter. More recently Facetime has been a major form of communication where we now can see the person while they are talking. That way, if one was to argue that the IPhone causes misinterpretations and miscommunications in our relationships due to the lack of their physical presence, it is these inventions that essentially “fix” the disadvantages of the iPhone that we have encountered within society. Ultimately, it only depends on the person you are dealing with.

Relationships sometimes get rocky and often become destructive for people we don’t connect or “get along” with. This destructive behavior corresponds with revealing information that should be held private, to the public. It becomes socially disruptive and intrusive when the IPhone allows one to take “screen shots” of every conversation or interaction we have over text and social media. This is extremely threatening to our private life because what may seem private could easily become public in a matter of seconds; sometimes even without one’s knowledge. Interestingly, we still encounter with the same complaints since the 18th century when the first phone came out. The complaints I made about the IPhone and privacy were remarkably similar. The excerpt “Community and Class Order reveals that back in the 1800’s, “there was a particular nervousness attached to protected areas of family life that might be exposed to the public scrutiny by electrical communication” (Community). Our privacy is now further threatened because back in the 1800’s they could only “call” but now we can text, tweet, Instagram, Facebook etc. Additionally, IPhones are where people store their passwords, credit card numbers and it’s where we have our most private and intimate conversations. What if you lost your phone? Thankfully, if a situation like this arises, the IPhone has adapted and created a password system where after a certain amount of tries you’re phone becomes permanently disconnected and un-usable. As one can see, the fears and anxieties associated with the iPhone hasn’t changed since the 1800’s when they first produced the rotary phone simply because, no matter what generation we are in, humanity will always be precautious and concerned when it involves our private information.

In this generation, technology is seemingly limitless and regardless it threatens what we want to keep private. To get the best possible advantage for all, it’s up to the individual to place limits on it. We can’t entirely blame the iPhone for changing our social interactions in a way that is disruptive and affects our relationships and empathy for one another. We can always argue the advantages versus the disadvantages of the iPhone, but technology is always going to improve, change and alter the way our society handles our social relationships with one another. It’s a matter of how we handle it and each individual will handle it differently. For some, we may abuse the iPhone in a way that is actually harming our physical, social, and emotional relationships without even realizing it, while for others the iPhone only improves these aspects. We can’t control what the iPhone provides for us, but we can control the way we use it to receive the best possible outcome that follows Hermes several ideas of popular culture.

Works Consulted:

Cherry, Kendra. “Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development.” Web. 2 May 2014. http://psychology.about.com/bio/Kendra-Cherry-17268.htm

Colville, Liz. “Surfing Alone: Is Digital Technology Destroying Relationships?” Pop Matters, 14 June 2009. Web. 5 May 2014. http://www.popmatters.com/column/94800-surfing-alone-is-digital-technology-destroying-relationships/

“Community and Class Order.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988. Web. 2 May 2014. https://www.google.com/#q=web.mit.edu/uricchio/Public/Documents/Marvin-Community

Dybwad, Barb. “Haiti Earthquake Survivor: “My IPhone Saved My Life.” 20 Jan 2010. Web 2 May 2014. http://mashable.com/2010/01/20/haiti-iphone-survivor/

“Is Social Networking Ruining You’re Real Life Relationships?” Cooley & Handy Attorneys at Law, PLLC. Web. 2 May 2014. http://www.cooleyhandy.com/news-articles/is-social-networking-ruining-your-real-life-relationships.html

Jenson, Jeffery. “The Empathetic Civilization’: The Young Pioneers of the Empathetic Generation.” 9 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 May 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-jensen-arnett/the-empathic-civilization_b_454211.html

Lindstrom, Martin. “You Love Your iPhone. Literally.” New York Times,20 Sept. 2011. Web. 2 May 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/01/opinion/you-love-your-iphone-literally.html

O’Brien, Keith. “The Empathy Deficit.” The Boston Globe, 17 Oct. 2010. Web. 5 May 2014. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/10/17/the_empathy_deficit/?page=1

“Smartphone use reflects personality type.” Fairfax Media, 6 May 2012. Web. 2 May 2014. http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/gadgets/7040965/Smartphone-use-reflects-personality-type


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