Harry Cockburn: Smartphones are conduits for misery. Why can’t we put them down?

Not sure what to do with your life? There’s an app for that

Look outside at the lashing rain. Is it comforting, or a pain in the *rse? For many of us the recent poor weather is a reason to breathe a sigh of relief that summer is coming to an end. Is summer stressful? All that beautiful weather, and having to take time off work to enjoy it – what a chore.

Depressing new evidence has emerged that over a third of people (36%) are actually more stressed by taking holidays than by plodding on without a break from work.

As soon as there’s an opportunity for a bit of unstructured frivolity, it seems that many of us can’t handle it.

The research, which comes from software firm Sage One, also reveals that some 40% of workers aren’t switching off from the office during holidays, and are making themselves available to clients and co-workers and ending up more stressed than when they were at their desks.

What is going on here? Are these people really that addicted to work?

I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they are not all single-minded drones, and are just victims of circumstance.

The smartphone has a lot to answer for here. Instead of being a device through which the user has the world’s collective knowledge at their fingertips, the sheer failure of imagination which a significant proportion of us exhibit means the smartphone is nothing but a ball and chain to dull responsibility; a conduit to misery.

This is no exaggeration either. The BBC has today described smartphones as the “tyrants in our pockets”, that are exacerbating stress levels - a growing concern in the UK.

Meanwhile, our incredible interconnectedness and access to information has done absolutely nothing to increase economic productivity in the UK. Nothing.

The BBC quotes Michael Rendell, partner for consulting firm PwC’s global human capital business. On this issue, Rendell says: “People are having to embrace a broader range of data and communications and it’s difficult to manage them all.

“It actually makes it more difficult to make decisions and many are becoming less productive because they’re overwhelmed by it all and feel they can never escape the office.”

He adds: “The UK workforce is not more productive than it was even though we have all this connectivity and all this data”.

It’s easy to see why. Walk into the street and look around, and everywhere you can see people’s minds paralysed by their phones. In restaurants, pubs and at home our constant engagement with devices means we spend less and less time thinking for ourselves.

Consuming media – books, films, newspaper articles and so on, is highly stimulating mentally, but without the downtime to process the information, all the potentially interesting and useful things we may have learned and benefitted from are hardly registered or explored before we’ve moved onto the next piece of media or our next social interaction. There is real fear of doing “nothing”.

We clearly need to recalibrate our relationship with smartphones and learn when their use is appropriate.

You may conclude that this rant has “luddite” written all over it. But I am not against the existence of looms. And neither do I oppose ownership of smartphones. Their saving grace? Maps. Absolutely brilliant. Of course, it means you are being tracked wherever you go by multinational businesses and governments, but maps are undeniably pretty handy if you want to get about.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Anonymous

    The smartphone must be in the same league as the wheel and the discovery of fire in its effect on our behaviour and opportunities we have access to ...

    This article stopped me in three places by the use of these phrases ..

    1) ... constant engagement with devices means we spend less and less time thinking for ourselves.

    2) There is real fear of doing “nothing”.

    3) .... the sheer failure of imagination which a significant proportion of us exhibit

    I think they sum up the problem very well..... put simply we confuse activity with action .... and as not many of us have plans or goals further than the end of the day or the party we are planning for the weekend , we bounce along like a ball in a pin-ball machine being run by everyone else agenda's.

    And we are not encouraged to think for ourselves . All this fashionable rubbish about team players and group decisions is mostly that ; rubbish. Employees (as opposed to those running businesses who are pushed around by a whole load of other groups like banks , VAT office and HMRC etc etc ...) are not in ANY way encouraged to use their imagination or be autonomous .... Heaven forbid their employers ACTUALLY have to engage and discuss matters with them - how inefficient !

    Like the TV ,treat the smartphone with care. TURN IT OFF regularly or leave it downstairs or in a drawer.....

    You cannot be available 24/7 .... 'pencil in' some 'me' time . . I hear often the phrase 'chillin ' ..' which is used for wasting time when you haven't thought how to use it for yourself and for your own good ....

    The MOST precious thing along with your health is your time - it is irreplaceable. Whilst spontanaeity in action is wonderful and is the source of many of the best moments in one's life, I have found that consciously taking time to clear my mind , allows my mind to integrate all the knowledge it has been bombarded with .

    I personally use some of the wonderful audios that help meditation (no it is NOT Boring but refreshing !) .... in doing so ,I solve many seemingly impossible problems much more easily and experience many more AHA moments !

    Exercise (running / swimming ) ; listening to music (loud or soft) or reading a FICTION e-book / book or listening to an audiobook .... are just as great to switch off that over-used brain and let it integrate what it has absorbed...

    Great article ..

    Rod (Southampton)

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