Do smartphones make people more shallow?

I probably shouldn’t post this blog. I share some of the guilt. After all, I’m a producer of internet content.

During my walk through Balboa Park today, I felt creeping despair.

Balboa Park is an amazing, wonderful, special place. Lifted eyes see a world that is infinitely interesting and beautiful.

About one third of the people I observed had their eyes absolutely fixed to the tiny screens of their smartphones. They were too obsessed to notice the vast world around them. Nor other people around them.

Of these, many were grown adults searching for a virtual Pokemon, a game fit for the simple mind of a child. At least these people looked up from time to time.

Yes, I know some people were busy communicating with friends, or perhaps looking up information, or a map of the park.

I also know that our lives are complex and so is human psychology. Everyone is different. I, too, have my silly, simple pleasures. It’s hard to draw firm conclusions. Technology changes. The culture changes. People change. Fads come and go.

But it does appear that humans are powerfully drawn to stimuli on isolated screens.

And, of course, the wonderful thing about smartphones is they can make life so much easier. Eye-to-eye politeness is no longer required. The potential for vulnerability in spontaneously spoken words is thankfully avoided. Problem solving is automatic. Critical thinking is less and less necessary. Simple and self-comforting ideas flood social media. Self absorption is made as easy as pie. Narcissism is rewarded.

I often wonder, as virtual reality becomes increasingly prevalent, whether people will permanently insert their entire selves into shallow, shrinking virtual worlds. The Matrix, of our own choosing.

If it feels good, why fight it?

Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

13 thoughts on “Do smartphones make people more shallow?”

  1. Seen anybody doing plein aire painting lately? They’re seeing most of the whole gorgeous world around us. But they know there are some things out there that should be captured on small canvasses. Or medium size ones, better. Art is reality overlaid with imagination. A very senior guy like me is too old to learn all the smart phone APPs available, or how to use them. Thank God for geriatric decline. And I really do adore 46 inch high definition screens, and the Athertons. By the way, phones made for seniors don’t need screens. Just big dial buttons.

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    1. I do see painters occasionally. Sometimes people from the San Diego Watercolor Society set up around the park. Many of the Spanish Village artists work outside, too. I’m afraid many of the people whose eyes are fixed upon their smartphones aren’t particularly curious about the world immediately around them. No more than people playing video games or watching television. For many it’s a sort of bland, pleasure-inducing escapism. They’re watching TV shows, videos, looking at Facebook, or other social media. On the trolley, people with time on their hands will often text, but most of the people I observed in the park were merely staring. They didn’t look up at the buildings like interested tourists. They didn’t interact much with anything, except their phone. They appeared bored, restless. As a writer, I observe behavior.

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  2. You are so right. It is a little sad to see people in such a nice place as this wandering around glued to their smartphones! We need to learn to detox more from our digital lifestyles and take time to just appreciate the world and people around us a bit more. Either that or risk fading away into our own Matrix – like worlds LOL

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    1. I suppose there are positives and negatives to most everything, including technology. And many things in our lives can be addictive. But your word “sad” really hits the mark. So much is being missed when eyes are down.

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      1. Yeah, there are always pros and cons with technology. Its a shame when it becomes such an intrinsic part of our lives that it almost seems to take priority over everything else. Hopefully the future will be more green and less screen 🙂

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  3. Excellent post, Richard. I just read the book and then watched the movie, “First Player Ready,” where everyone has escaped into a virtual world. Afterwards, I watched my grandkids totally lost in the latest VR game. It’s scary. –Curt

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    1. The desire for comfort, security, and pleasure (and power) is in our DNA. It seems inevitable, at least to me, that a time will come when many people will just stay “home” and live in a virtual world of their choosing. Physical needs like food will be created and delivered with a press of a button, or more likely a thought. It’s a terrible thing to say, but we humans in many respects would prefer to be shallow. It’s easier, less potentially painful. No doubts, no serious questions, no difficult thoughts about our place in the cosmos, our purpose, our relation to others, morality, mortality.

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      1. Very thoughtful, Richard. And I partially agree. I also hope, however, that the same urge that leads you out on walking tours to explore San Diego, or is leading me to plan a thousand mile backpack trip this summer also exists in out hearts and DNA. I know my 13 year old grandson is ever-so-excited to join me on a portion of the trip. So maybe there is hope. I like to think so. –Curt

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      2. No, I agree with you. Lots of stuff is in our DNA, including that desire to explore, plus a strong social impulse. But when I see people–young people in particular–absolutely absorbed into virtual realities like those in video games, realities that are designed only to excite, reward and produce pleasure, and they refuse to withdraw for hours and hours on end, I can only wonder what looms in our future. People like prolonged escapism. People are proud to say they binge watch television. Designer escapism for the mind will likely become more addictive than any drug. But no matter how immense and intricate those virtual realities might be, they’re ultimately self-serving. They don’t show anything beyond one’s own skull. And that makes them small.

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    1. I’m not quite that pessimistic. People are complicated. We have all sorts of different values and impulses. I also encounter plenty of uplifted eyes–people with outgoing, unselfish, curious minds. It’s hard to foresee the future, with technology “progressing” so quickly. What choices will people make? Unfortunately, the powerful allure of technology and its dehumanizing potential is plainly visible.

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