“Global Village”: A Fallacy?
Do you know how many hours you spend on your smartphone daily? Do you care? It was one Tuesday evening in 1964 when the late Marshall McLuhan came up with the idea that the world was gradually shrinking into a ‘global village’. He believed that a time was coming when information would be shared instantaneously across countries, continents, cultures, and pervade every corner of human experience. If you look around right now, you’ll know that he was right.
Image Source: Buro Happold
We stream live sport matches, vote online, watch events as they break on our TV screens, FaceTime with people in far away places, tweet now and get instant replies. One out of every seven young people around the world today can boast of smartphones keeping themselves informed and entertained. Though this advent of untrammelled information and communication technology has made us villagers of an exposed world, it has also made us outcasts in physical human interactions.
The issue here is not the fear of using technology, but rather the fear of what the addictive usage of such attention hungry technologies can do to communities that used to connect with one another before the invention of these technologies. While this advancement in human communication may have its perks, with social change also arise social problems.
In a recent study by Old Dominion University, it was revealed that 80% of the youth feel nervous in social settings without having their phones in hand or using them no matter the kind of social milieu that they are frequenting. Be it an official meeting, at the dining table, during an interview, or face-to-face conversation, they just can’t do without phones. 75% of the respondents revealed that they used Instagram and Facebook the most. The target population of this research included individuals in the 18-30 age range, and it revealed that this category is most affected by the vice of social media addiction. 2019 alone had 2,895 vehicle crashes and 3142 fatalities owing to phone related distracted driving in the United States, more than ⅔ of this number, fell under the 18-30 age range.
We depend on phones so much: from waking us up, playing games, and keeping in touch, to receiving and sending information, that we do not realize how long we use them at a stretch. In the same study, it was discovered that of the 67 participants selected, 0% of them used their phones for less than four hours per day. Take that from a full day and you have (as a parent) no less than four hours of your son or daughter surrounded by people, without proper interaction. This picture becomes worse when earphones are involved and Instagram is the subject.
The question here is why? Why do young people spend these many hours on the likes of smartphones, TV screens, etc. without conventional physical human interaction? Does this mean that global connecting software technologies are more interesting than everyday people? The answer for many readers right now is probably no, which brings up the next question of what we gain from phones that have come to make us so dependent. For different people of different demographics, dependency on smartphones can be justified by many reasons ranging from e-learning to e-banking, e-mails, e-meeting, e-shopping, research reasons and the need to keep up with the latest trends. We have needs that are important and phones are designed to at least appear to be satisfying them. We have only come to be more distracted by phones recently. It is and was the same with every new affordable interactive technology.
It was so in 1973 when Inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell made the first call to his assistant and said the words “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you”. In those days, everyone who could afford it, wanted to make calls. It was so again with the invention of radio in the late 1800s and how everyone would gather round the device to listen – because global interaction is affordable, there seems to be nothing fascinating about physical interaction.
"The lady receives an amatory message, and the gentleman some racing results." A cartoon from 1906 that predicted our obsession with technology. Image Credits: Elite Daily
Still, this addiction by young people to their devices has proven costly to people around them. On November 1st 2016, surveillance cameras in China captured a slow moving SUV hitting a two year old girl who veered into its path, while her distracted mother walking a few steps behind was engrossed in her phone. Distracted driving is reported to have killed 3,142 people in the United States alone in 2019 and injured about three times that number.
This form of behavior has resulted in emotional detachment among partners, drunk texting, feeling bad about one’s self on a date, obsessive craving for social acceptance online by young people, obsession with the amount of likes one gets on Facebook etc. The inquiry here is whether or not this behavior is sane.
True, there are health dangers of such glue-to-the-screen behaviors with smartphones. However it is rare to find people today who have no knowledge of the hazards of long-term screen viewing, the radioactive emissions that come with sleeping close to smartphones, poor muscle usage from lack of exercise, eye defects and others. But the excited gamers, impulsive texters and compulsive viewers do not care for these. The fun of these technologies to them is instant and the consequences of wrong usage, further down the future.
Were we warned? Yes, we were. In 1946, novelist Anais Nin wrote “…now that we believe we are in touch with a greater number of people, more people, more countries...this is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision (is here)."
75 years later and we still haven't learnt. We get so caught up in the freedom of information sharing and the possibility of distant interactions that we forget the fun things we humans did before the invention of smartphones. We painted, took strolls, visited friends, exercised, wrote on paper, went outside, and did an array of other activities. We participated in activities that made our bodies healthy and had good relationships with our neighbors. It’s no wonder that our predecessors lived longer than we do today. Is the world of today what Marshall dreamt of in those days? Certainly not. We have exceeded his global village theory but at a cost to ourselves and others around us. Let’s take a step back, refuse to abuse our freedom and monitor our obsessive smartphone usage.
By Melekwe Anthony
Melekwe Anthony is a fierce writer with many published works across North America. He recently appeared on the cover of Dark Moon Digest's Issue #44, for his piece titled "Shadows". Melekwe is also a frequent writer for Dead Talk Live, USA and Brizo Magazine.