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Smartphones: Are They a Help or a Hindrance?

The rapid rise in the popularity of social media has left many of us older citizens somewhat perplexed. I might go so far as to say dismayed by how some, usually younger, people seem to be obsessed with it, making the ubiquitous smartphone an essential part of their outfit every day.

At the risk of being called sexist, it seems that women are more afflicted than men. In fact, several studies have shown women spend a lot more time on their smartphones than men and their time is usually spent immersed in messaging or social media. The female members of my family certainly bear out this research.

For the benefit of those of you who are not clear exactly what social media is, do not despair, many others are also confused. It typically refers to websites and applications which share their content and encourage readers to comment and share their views. The more famous examples are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

My wife and children are all hooked on accessing information online, usually through their mobile phones or iPads. I recall as a kid that we would sometimes visit friends for dinner, which included a slide show of their holiday snaps. I soon learned that other people’s holiday snaps are invariably boring, and it was never clear to me why they would want to invite people over to see their holiday photos. Now people want to upload images of themselves every day, so anyone interested can track the minutiae of their daily lives.

My eldest daughter is seriously into Instagram and uploads picture of herself and her twins with incredible regularity, which has resulted in over 100,000 people ‘following’ her. This encourages companies selling baby products to shower her with samples in the hope she will showcase them in her posts – some even pay her to do it. Frankly, cute as they are, I have trouble with the notion of uploading carefully posed pictures of immaculately attired babies and their fully made-up Mum ‘casually relaxing’ at home. No dirty diapers, vomiting, or baby tantrums allowed. More confusing to me is why other people would want to look at these photos enough to ‘follow’ her.

My middle daughter is so hooked on her phone and the social media and messaging apps that I have to instruct her to turn if off when I am talking to her, or I have to share our conversation with a multitude of other people. It usually goes like this: “Sorry Dad, I’ve just got to reply to my friends.” “Why can’t they wait until we’ve finished talking?” Exasperated sigh: “Dad, its urgent!”

Her definition of urgent and mine, of course, never come close.

My plan is to try and ensure my youngest daughter doesn’t end up addicted. Despite ‘all her friends’ having smartphones, she has to make do with an iPad, but she makes full use of it. Her primary interest is watching videos on YouTube, which my frequent checks reveal are nearly all about cooking, travel, and children’s games.

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This raises the question of whether I am failing to make essential adjustments to a changing world or playing an important role in trying to address what is clearly an addiction, which I fail to see as a positive development.

Having said all that, my business actively engages in using social media to promote some of our clients’ products and services, so I am probably contributing to the problem! I may not like some of my family’s obsession with it, but it can be an effective way to reach people.

Have a good month, and if you cannot move without your smartphone, then at least try short periods separated from it. It may not be as bad as you think.

This article was originally published in The Expat magazine (April 2017) which is available online or in print via a free subscription.

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