There is something almost magical about all the different apps available on our smartphones to help us with almost every conceivable task and project that we may have. Supposedly there are 2.56 million apps available for Android phones and 1.85 million apps available for I-phones. That’s an awful lot of software programs to help us with the business of daily life. A task or a project is not the same when there is an app to help with its execution. It makes the task or project more frictionless to carry out. It makes the task or project more controllable, more predictable in its execution. And once one uses a particular app and has success with it, one is hooked. It becomes one more way that one becomes inextricably tied to one’s smartphone.
Apps are screen reality bridges to the external world. But in the process of bridging, they create layers of mediated experience that keep us separated not only from the external world, but also from ourselves. The price we pay for ease of process and for greater control is enormous. We sink into deeper layers of numbness. This leads not only to anesthetizing our will to do things (conative anesthesia), but also to numbing our senses of self and our respective consciousnesses. And as our senses of self and our respective consciousnesses become more and more numb, we sink into the living death of our experiential vacuum.
From another perspective, as our bonds with our smartphones become stronger and stronger with each different app we start using, it is like, psychologically, the smartphone becomes not only more and more indispensable, but more and more a part of us. It is like we merge with the smartphones, and we become human-machine combinations or cyborgs. In other words, we lose some of our humanity as we psychologically merge with our smartphones. They may be physically just a small part of us in our new human-machine merger, but they exert an inordinate influence on us.
Always having this little device mediate our interactions with the external world means that it becomes more and more difficult to make, preserve, and receive meaningful organic imprints. It’s like each imprint is somehow cleansed by an app, before we and the people with whom we are interacting can experience it. Our lives lose their vibrancy. Our life narratives become devoid of meaning. And distinct from screen reality, which is like a series of parallel worlds, a series of parallel fields of experience, apps mediate and interfere with our direct engagement with external world reality. Such that, on some levels, we don’t always consciously separate out the influence of these apps from the external world realities they are affecting.
For instance, the use of GPS or Waze to guide us to our destinations has become such an intrinsic part of our lives, that it has become hard for most of us to remember back to a time when we didn’t have them. It’s hard for many of us to remember when we made our own imprints on our routes by using maps or asking people on the street for directions.
One of the problems is that each of the apps when examined by itself can seem so useful and so sensible that it is hard to resist. Why not use GPS or Waze when we are trying to go someplace? The problem though is that most of us don’t just use one app. We use many apps to deal with a whole buffet of life situations. And just like taking many drugs during a particular period of one’s life can lead to dangerous drug interactions, so can the use of many different apps ultimately lead to the negative side effects of a growing numbness, and a gradual psychological merging with the smartphone to become a cyborg.
In the past, I have used the metaphor of drug interaction to deal with the effects of a person constantly using many different kinds of screen reality in his daily life. There we were dealing with a person living too much in different alternate forms of reality. There we were dealing with the living death of deep numbness as well. Also, as a person lives in screen reality for so much time, perhaps it is like he psychological jumps over the barrier of experience and becomes an avatar of himself. Again, he becomes a reduced entity from being a fully coherent defined human being.
When just focusing on apps, we are talking about phenomena that appear primarily within the context of one form of screen reality – namely, the smartphone. And we are talking about phenomena that don’t try to replace external world reality, but rather try to manipulate our processes within it. Which, on a certain level, makes the influence of these apps all the more pervasive and insidious. External world reality is even more submerged and blurred by many smartphone apps than it is by general screen reality.
However, many people use both a lot of forms of screen reality as well as a lot of different apps within one form of screen reality. So perhaps, we can say that in one kind of situation, they are reduced to being an avatar and in another kind of situation that are reduced to being a cyborg. Either way, people are losing their humanity.
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow