Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Is there an app that will give us back our real lives?

Party snap: Prince Harry
Party snap: Prince Harry

We used to worry that we watched too much television. How innocent that all seems right now. You see, we have a new love: our smartphones. Just look at Spike Jonze's 'Her' showing in cinemas now, where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his computer's automated voice, who's very similar to Apple's Siri.

The virtual canonisation of Steve Jobs has seemed a bit odd to me. Yes, it's good to acknowledge his talent, but I do wonder if he actually changed the world for the better – or if he just set up a future where we are only able to communicate through gadgets.

It's wonderful to be able to keep up-to-date with breaking news on the train, to be able to respond to emails while in the park, but data flow can quickly become an addiction, and we can start to feel like Jenny-no-mates if we're not getting messages every five minutes.

Yet, we can all feel like we're far too indispensable to our friends and workplace to be without the gadget for more than a few minutes at a time.

According to a recent Stanford University study, iPhone users are becoming so reliant on their iPhones that they are actually reporting being addicted. Almost half of the respondents in the study acknowledged an iPhone addiction. Students were asked to rate their addiction to their iPhones on a scale of one-to-five, from 'not at all addicted' to 'fully addicted'.

Some 44% had a score of four or above. Interestingly, the iPhone is seen less as an outside device and more of an extension of the person, due to the amount of personal information held on it and the ways in which people use it to organise and facilitate their social lives. Incessant photographing and videoing of our lives is another disturbing aspect of our smartphone obsession.

I've seen people watch whole concerts through the lens of their iPhone. I've sat back and waited while a friend applied a sepia tint to the lunch we were having. The self-portrait or selfie has become a narcissistic blight on modern life, from the teen on the street to the US President at a state funeral.

American writer John Paul Titlow has described selfie-sharing as "a high-school popularity contest on digital steroids". Just how much of our lives are we wasting Instagramming them?

Did you know that 10% of the photos ever taken (yes, ever) were taken during the last year? But while you are trying to capture precious moments, you will probably end up missing out on them.

Then you'll find that it's all fun and games until someone gets humiliated. Once a photograph or video is uploaded online, it is out there in cyberspace for public titillation.

Smartphones have also turned us all into ever-ready paparazzi. Look at Prince Harry's naked Vegas party. Even sadder was the Slane girl saga last year.

A girl drunkenly makes a mistake. Meanwhile, it's cruelly recorded and published so that her slip-up is trending globally on Twitter two days later. It's even worse for those in the public eye. They must be constantly vigilant, as bad hair days and blunders can be filmed and broadcast to the world.

Is it actually healthy for us to fall deeper and harder in love with gadgets that are less about having experiences than showing others that you're having them?

How about we just get on with living our lives rather than trying to log every second of them and waiting impatiently for the 'likes' to arrive? We all need some perspective. If only there was an app for that.

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