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Smartphones: A Curable Addiction
[ Issue 121 Page 7 ] Wednesday, May 01, 2013, 08:13:58 Phan Phuong Thao thaophan93@kaist.ac.kr

Among the many utterly bitter truths we are facing today, one of the hugest is our mad addiction to smartphones. The invention of this magical portable device that does almost everything except studying on our behalf has gotten us falling head over heels. Whether it is on the subway, in the lunch line, at the dinning table, in the john, everywhere we go the smartphone follows! Why?

The answer is simple: because everybody else uses it! Recall the last awkward moment you had in the café immediately after ordering your hot caramel macchiato. You place your buzzer onto the table, sit down in a graceful manner at an empty seat, look up and behold the magnificent view of men and women, the youth and elderly all having a splendidly intimate time with their best friend forever – the smartphone. Right there and then, you cannot help but think that you are the only person on this living planet that is doing nothing. You glance at your buzzer for the millionth time, wondering why it would not go off and save you from this misery of being a lonely and pathetic outcast. All of a sudden, you feel the urge to search your pocket. You forage for the precious gadget, which gleams “Slide to unlock,” and exhale in relief. You are now in business! Of course soon after, your wicked buzzer would finally vibrate and pull your consciousness away from the Kakaotalk screen and towards the counter. You take your coffee, walk confidently out the door, and head towards the bus stop, where you experience the entire “awkward moment” cycle all over again.

We deny that we are addicted to our smartphones, yet it is not much different from high school girls claiming that they do not wear a lot of make up, or swimsuit models absolutely insisting that they are by no means skinny. Because we ourselves know for a fact, better than anyone else, that our addiction is a detrimental nervous habit and that it does more harm than good. Yet, we are neither willing nor able to stop. We are now beyond hooked to games, like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds, that it seems impossible to restrain ourselves, except for those several days of family vacation when we just happened to forget our phone charger. When I was in high school, one of our assignments in my Advance English Writing class was to reflect on a four-hour unplugging experience. We had to be completely free from cellphones, laptops, televisions, and other mass communication technologies, and were given a period of one week to write about the experience. We laughed at the idea that our teacher believed we could not survive the four-hour challenge. He must have mistaken us for kids in kindergarten crying for more candy. Yet, seven days passed, and out of 25, only two of us successfully completed the challenge. The assignment spoke volume.

Most of the time, we blame boredom as the culprit for our helpless slavery under the power of smartphones. The truth is, while we glue our eyes to the newsfeed section on Facebook, exercise our finger knuckles on smartphone keyboards, or in general just float in cyber-zone, we are missing the chance to befriend intriguing people: the lady in white cotton gloves raking leaves on our campus garden, the jolly mister who gave us a ride back home from Homeplus, or the cute brunette standing right before us on the bus. They are not meant to be just nameless strangers. In fact, like the rest of the sane human population, they are dying for our attention. By taking a minute to open up towards these people, we are actually conveying a powerful message that their existence matters, and that we are willing to offer them recognition and connection. Our greeting, of course, does not make our school campus any cleaner, our cab bill any less expensive, or our relationship status any less single. That is not the point anyway. The most valuable thing we gain from these experiences is the proof that we are more than able to relinquish our cyborg lifestyle. The remaining question is, are we willing to?

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