You don’t need the new iPhone. On a literal level, this point is obvious — food, water, and shelter are what you need. What’s more important here are the reasons why you don’t need the new iPhone.
To start, there are a handful of reasons not to get the iPhone that I am not interested in, such as:
- how the new features aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
- whether Samsung or whoever has a better phone available
- better uses for that $1,000 dollars you’d be dropping
Those reasons might be valid, but they are fundamentally short-sighted and incomplete. The reason you should not get the newest iPhone is because it will make you a worse person.
The Bait and Switch
At the bottom of a Washington Post article about the launch ceremony, one commentator asked, “Has the iPhone made the world a better place?”
Truthfully, the answer is probably yes. Speaking generally, the iPhone was a major catalyst for global interconnection. A better question might be: has the cellphone improved a net positive number of lives?
Herein lies one of the sneakiest bait and switches of technology. Since the cellphone can be used for good we are pressured to ignore the idea that it often pushes you to do bad.
For every one person who downloads the Calm meditation app, a dozen others download the latest game. While a few thousand people a day may log onto Duolingo to practice a new language, billions are are clicking on that blue F icon.
If you are completely confident that your cellphone has improved your life, character, and/or focus more than it has hurt any of these — ignore my advice and get the iPhone. To be clear, better means some specific aspect of your life is being improved, not that things are just more convenient.
Roughly every 15 minutes of the lecture, the professor of my communications class plays a relevant video clip from movies or sports. The 1-10 minute breaks often seem unnecessary. The reason for them, however, is obvious — he knows his students don’t have the capacity to focus otherwise.
This teacher has his doctorates, which I’m sure he had to spend hundreds of hours of hard, frustrating focus to receive. Now he’s teaching a generation that has been literally programmed out of being able to concentrate for more than a few minutes. Some say that the average user spends 50 minutes a day on Facebook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that is more time than we spend reading (19 minutes) or sports/exercising (17 minutes) combined. While much of this Facebook activity is on a computer, you can add together your phone time wasted spent on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and your other favorite apps and we would get a similarly large chunk of time that you personally spend consumed by a hunk of metal.
The boringly obvious point here is that if the average person went from 50 minutes of daily Facebook down to 14 minutes, plenty of time to still check up on people, those billion sum people could double the time they spent reading and exercising.
Idealistic math aside, think about just one thing in your personal life last year that for some reason didn’t work out. What are the odds this opportunity or relationship or hobby would have played out better had you given it just 20 more minutes a day?
“Okay,” you might be saying, but not everything in life is about reaching a some definition of success or work milestone. What about leisure or spending time with those you love? Fair enough.
Yet even here, it’s abundantly clear that we are no better at relaxing or communicating with others because of technology. Like I mentioned, there were logistical hurdles leaped over by technology such as the cell phone, but if simply being able to talk to someone was enough to foster a connection, we would all love each of our neighbors and family members.
Again, things are easier, but that doesn’t mean you and I are better.
Being compassionate is really hard. Not only does it take the difficult physical act of being present and open with someone, but more broadly, it takes some real technology-free soul searching to come to a mature viewpoint (one where you wish goodness towards) people you may find despicable.
The thing about your cellphone is that while any one thing you may do on it may be useful for a given period, the switch from “this is doing me good” to “now I am wasting time” happens quickly. This is because you do not have the constraints in place that tell you to STOP NOW. The easiest comparison is with eating. When you’re having lunch, 90% of the time you will do one of two things.
- Stop eating before finishing the meal because you’re full
- Finish the whole plate(s) in front of you
In both these cases, you’re receiving some form of natural constraint from either your body or the visual cue of the empty plate. With your cell phone there are no constraints. There is always more to consume, and it is all right in front of you. And since every second you spend on an app is money in someone’s pocket, there are millions of people right now who work to make sure every click entices you enough to make you click again. So what starts off as a relaxing escape becomes a brain frying habit.
One more thing about those workers, who are mostly good people I’m sure. They are only going to get better. And your brain is only going to get more outmatched as the years go by. A strange paradox. You can make the world a seemingly more elegant, efficient place, while also making the people in the world worse. It’s like creating an elaborate tunnel system for a mouse cage, but also overfeeding the mice to obesity.
Technology Fall Outs
Think about the last time you spent too long on your phone when you should have been doing something else: going to bed, working, or anything that mattered to you whatsoever. Did you feel happy afterwards? Rejuvenated or relaxed? Not likely.
When these instances happen, we might call them technological fall outs.
Tech Fall Out: a situation in which you did not achieve a positive outcome in part because of the grip a technological device had on your mind during a given time.
I’ve had at least five of these today. How many more of these technological fall outs do you want to have over the next 10 years? Even three of these missteps a day means thousands of sub-optimal moments a year. Forget perfection, we are talking about being less than good in your work, your relationships, your learning, everything. The cellphone has mastered the newness bias — our tendency to believe that because something new and flashy is in front of us, that must mean it’s important.
Beyond The Features
I almost dislike being so dismissive of a hunk of metal. In the end, it is people that can improve or destroy their own lives. If you spent all of tomorrow without your phone, you would still have trouble focusing, being happy, and so on. In the same way that the iPhone X isn’t a magic pill for whatever positive quality you think it will give you, having no phone or some other extreme choice won’t automatically make you some virtuous person.
So please, think less about a phone’s features or why the new recognition software may or may not be worth the price-tag. The cost/benefit analysis done at the time before the purchase is what everyone worries about, and it is by far the least important part. Consider your life after you would get the phone. The time cost, the fall outs, the anxiety that becomes unavoidable after your second hour of social media for the day. Then take a step back and think about what you want your life to look like.