Are smartphones stealing away our lives?

Moderated by Steve Ranger | September 23, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: For better of worse, we're living in a digital world. Jason Perlow and Matt Baxter-Reynolds debate the consequences.

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow




Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Best Argument: Yes


Audience Favored: Yes (67%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

They steal the moments we value most

Jason Perlow: Smartphones have become so ingrained in our daily lives that it's difficult for many of us to consider going about our days without them at our side. As an industry, we are completely obsessed with mobile devices, like prized pets. The newer, the faster, the more aesthetic, the higher resolution, the increasing capacity.

As I wrote back in February, "Lifestreams" experienced on today's smartphones and other mobile devices are replacing traditional computing experiences and in many cases intruding on actual life experiences.

And while they give us unprecedented access to information at speeds that were incomprehensible even a decade ago, they do detach us from humanity and they steal the moments from us that we value the most: Time spent with our loved ones and friends.

We've not yet evolved into brains implanted in robot bodies, as the recently departed SF master Frederik Pohl predicts in his 1976 novel Man Plus. But as this recently published YouTube video (nearly 24 million views since late August) makes clear, we're well on our way to full detachment from humanity — especially if you consider the future in wearable technologies like Google Glass.

I'm certainly not advocating that we eschew mobile technology. As much as they steal moments from us, they also provide us with the ability to save time so we can live our lives more efficiently.

However, as a culture we need to learn how to recognize what the high-value experiences in our lives actually are, what we should really be paying attention to, and when we should be paying attention to them.

Digital and real-life relationships are converging

Matt Baxter-Reynolds: My thing, the reason why I get up and go to work each day, is that I'm fascinated by how technology changes individuals, and how society changes as a result.

Jason's piece on which this debate is based -- How smartphones steal fleeting moments of life -- is a fascinating look at one side of what these devices mean to one's "digital life".

People fall into two camps in this argument. One camp -- my camp -- is that digital relationships and real-life relationships are levelling off and becoming the same. The other camp is that there is an inherent *specialness* in real-life that digital life can never replace.

My job today, as ZDNet's self-appointed "technology sociologist", is to prove to you all that my camp -- that digital and real-life relationships are converging and will one day be indistinguishable -- is the right one. And if it is the right one, the smartphone becomes an essential tool, access to one becomes embedded in what we actually understand to be the human expeirence, and can never be "stealing away our lives."


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  • humm...

    " 'Lifestreams' experienced on today's smartphones and other mobile devices are replacing traditional computing experiences and in many cases intruding on actual life experiences."

    ... if you're a blogger. Don't know anybody else who "lifestreams," though.

    "But as this recently published YouTube video"

    Amusing, although I should note that the YouTube video was staged. It intentionally exaggerates how many people pull out their cell phones in order to make its point.

    "especially if you consider the future . . ."

    Nobody knows "the future." It's become a meaningless catch-phrase in blogging circles.

    " . . . is to prove to you all that my camp -- that digital and real-life relationships are converging and will one day be indistinguishable . . ."

    There's no way to prove the future, sorry. And attempts to do so have always failed; the world never quite turns out the way people predict it does.

    . . . and there's no real way you're likely to prove to me that "relationships are converging." And to be honest, that proves Jason's side, not yours.

    The only thing I think I'm gonna see here is proof that tech bloggers are out of touch with reality.
    Reply 17 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Smartphones are stealing our lives away

    Especially for generation Y and after
    Reply 11 Votes I'm for Yes
  • Like so many others things we BLAME for our shortcomings, the ...

    ... smartphone is the latest example. The smartphone is one of those devices that distracts us from our boredom but, in reality, it is our choice to fall prey to these devices. I am afraid that I am like so many others. I too am addicted but it is not the device that is to blame. It is ourselves - who let our employers, our families, and our friends, have access to us 24/7.
    M Wagner
    Reply 13 Votes I'm for No
    • This I'll agree with.

      "It is ourselves - who let our employers, our families, and our friends, have access to us 24/7."

      This I'll agree with. When all is said and done - we need to accept responsibility for our own actions.

      And that's something I don't see a lot of in bloggers. They like to blame things like smart phones and "the inevitable future" for their own actions.
      Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Smarthphones

    We are a digital society... and our smart phones help us access that society.. we don't have photo albums and dusty DVDs and VCR tapes of our special events. Our media "lives" in the cloud, often taken by our phones, viewed on our phones, Etc. This is what Jason means by life streams.. that nearly a stream of consciousness digital capturing of our lives; many of us are stopping to upload pictures before we eat, Tweet before we view entertainment, and take extra photos and videos during our trips and adventures.

    The question if we don't check-in, upload a picture and a video and send a few Tweets, do we feel the non digital experience is less worthy or even worthless?

    Sharing the digital artifacts of my life with my friends, co-workers and family has made me closer to them, I interact with people I don't normally interact with and the interaction range from the silly to sublime.
    Harry Hawk
    Reply 6 Votes I'm Undecided
  • its about the experienced world

    The scope of our experienced world is no longer centered around our physical location. To those that WANT the sphere of experience to be localized, it feels offensive when the digitally involved person walks by without any awareness of the other's presence.

    I was biking to the restaurant to pick up dinner, BT headset on, audio stimulus and visual status info flowing into my squishy brain; and the squishy brain of another human walked by the other way, involved in his visual stimulus and text conversation with yet another squishy brain somewhere else. We each caused no trouble for the other, and pleasantly proceeded forward involved in our own digital worlds. To another, non-digital-sentient, my inability and unwillingness to hear or acknowledge their presence I suppose could be really irritating. To bad. You might be famous and noteworthy to someone else; you aren't to me.
    Reply 13 Votes I'm for No
  • I have no life to steal.

    Reply 11 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Life vs. Cyber Life

    This is something we all battle with, internally, even if we don't think about it. One the front end, we are connected, plugged in and content flowing with the everyday lives of the cyber world. On the back end, we are managing our lives, our families and our sanity. Without the balance of the two, where would we be? Life can only rule you if you let it. Your phone is not an extension of you - it is a tool, just like your computer, your pen, your clock. If you let it take over your personal relationships, that is your choice. We have technology to thank for our careers, our income and most definitely our lives. Phones are tech, they aren't our lives.
    Reply 11 Votes I'm for No
  • Just have to go off grid every once in a while...

    I just go off grid overy once in a while...don't anwer the phone, no texts, no internet, no Facebook, etc...partake in my family and hobbies for several evening and more of what I like to do and not what I have to do, or at least what others think I have to do...too many think too much is too important...when in the big picture, little really is...and with age comes wisdom...hopefully you learn what is more important...
    Reply 20 Votes I'm for Yes
  • its the user not the phone

    if you want to spend your life on trivia - facebook and twitter which are not much more than technology enhanced gossip, then yes, it is stealing your life.

    But checking my emails whilst waiting for something else (wife trying on dresses, checkout line at supermarket) enables me to use what were wasted moments for something useful

    The old saying - "a bad craftsman blames his tools" could be rewritten as "an unfocussed person blames their smartphone for wasting their time"
    Reply 16 Votes I'm for No