The Costs of Constant Contact: iCan’t Put Down My iPhone

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Technology is currently crying out for your attention. Twitter wants to know, “What are you doing?” Facebook is asking, “What are you doing right now?” There’s a good chance that your personal, work, and spam email accounts all have new messages waiting for you, friends or acquaintances may be inviting you to LinkedIn or Friendfeed, or maybe your cell phone is ringing. “Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely,” William Deresiewicz writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “now it’s impossible to be alone.”

The technology demands constant attention, because that’s what people want. The “contemporary self,” according to Deresiewicz, “wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible.” The websites offer visibility at no monetary cost, but users end up sacrificing their solitude, privacy, and, in some ways, the ability to be alone.

The technology has a spiritual cost, too. “Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism,” Deresiewicz writes, “a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom.” This kind of self-reflection is nearly impossible if people don’t quit tweeting, texting, and calling every once in a while.

The costs of constant contact become more extreme as technology improves. New applications for the iPhone and Google’s new G1 (which I bought 3 weeks ago), allow people to connect with Twitter, Facebook, and a host of location-aware applications at all times. Programs like WhosHere, Whrrl, and the dubiously named LifeAware give near-constant GPS-based updates to friends or strangers of where people are and how to connect.

Some of these location-aware applications go too far, even for tech enthusiasts. Mathew Honan, the man behind BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle, explored the labyrinthine world of the GPS-based applications for Wired and found paradoxically, “I had gained better location awareness but was losing my sense of place.”

The flood of tweets, updates, and friend request can quickly become indistinguishable from real life (aka RL). The din can easily stand in the way of deeper thoughts and self-reflection. “In effect,” according to the Winter 2007 issue of n+1, “this mode of constant self-report can be summed up in a single phrase: “I am on the phone. I am on the phone. I am on the phone.'”

Image by Juhan Sonin, licensed under Creative Commons.

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