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%)

Closing Statements

We're getting disconnected

Jason Perlow

I don't believe we need conclusive scientific evidence that over-use of these devices and a tendency to replace traditional means of social interaction with social networking tools disconnects us from society and may also retard or harm our overall developmental skills, particularly if we are exposed to them at an early age.

Those of us who already have difficulties in social situations or have Autism Spectrum Disorders and associated co-morbid conditions such as ADHD and ADD should be making an extra effort to get out and be with people, and not become recluses with our tech toys.

The signs are certainly out there. You only need to walk into a restaurant to see supposedly mature adults at tables mindlessly texting or "liking" and sharing rather than engaging in focused conversation with each other.

You only need to go to a public park and watch people stare at their tablets or phones rather than take in a beautiful summer's day watching the marvels of nature or to people watch. Or ignoring priceless works of art displayed at a museum, instead fixated on their business calendars and corporate emails when they are on vacation.

You only need to observe your own children at family gatherings who would rather be texting peers of their own age -- frequently in the same room with each other -- than having to communicate verbally with anyone. 

Is this the society we want for ourselves? For our children? Or are we doomed to transform our great civilization into a sea of stupid?

We're making the right connections

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Looking back over my esteemed opponent's argument, the same issue keeps coming out. The message he's giving is that there is something inherently "anti-social" or "unsocial" about how connections are made on these devices.

This is a point that I completely disagree with. Over time we will see a normalization whereby real life and digital relationships converge and become indistinguishable, and I don't see this as a bad thing. It creates more ways in which we can interact, share ideas, and communicate, not  fewer. Why should baking cakes with granny in her kitchen in real-life be more worthy than spending an hour talking to her over Skype on a bus ride home.

This debate was inspired by an article written by my esteemed opponent in which he describes an art gallery visit where he was looking a  smartphone rather than looking around at the works of art that surrounded him. He lamented the distraction -- to me, that should have been something to be celebrated. He got to enjoy the artworks, and alleviate stressors related to needing to answer work emails, and spend time with his wife. It seems to me that in that moment he found a win-win, not a win-lose.

Convergence at a cost

Steve Ranger

Jason makes a strong argument -- backed by a fair deal of anecdotal evidence -- that our always-connected culture is having some very negative consequences on our ability to maintain and sustain meaningful relationships.

Matt also delivers some good points about how our "real" and digital relationships are headed toward a convergence. But just because technology pushes and pulls us in particular direction doesn't mean we're prepared to manage or even appreciate all the risks involved.

Besides, we would rather bake cakes with grandma than Skype with her.

I'll go with the crowd on this one: Jason gets the win.


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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