How many of us have an elderly relative who loves to go on about the vices of technology? Almost all my relatives over 60 either outright declare their distaste for new technologies, or attempt to use them and find themselves helplessly lost. “The good old days,” they say, “were simpler times. Where our conversations were face to face and more personal.” They are, of course, talking about cell phones.
I think this notion that we have become detached from our relationships is utterly false — in fact, the capability of cell phones to link us to bigger causes has made our generation globalist and humanitarian, seeing the plight of every human on equal ground. This is not the danger of pocket-sized computers. The danger is in the agenda of consumerism. As cell phone use becomes more ubiquitous, companies are attempting to make it a tool for them — the producer — not the user.
The evidence is right in your pocket. Technology used in cellphones is some of the most rapidly developing today. As the abilities of our phones increase, they offer us new opportunities to connect with friends, organize our hectic lives or even play video games in virtual reality. But a relationship never goes one way and if you think that developers are implementing these advancements in our phones solely for the good of the user, then you must be hooked on Candy Crush.
Consider the application Snapchat. Up there with Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat is one of the most popular social networking applications, allowing users to send pictures that disappear after a short time — ten seconds or less. Long time users of the app will agree that it is essentially a marketing tool now. Many photo “filters” are sponsored by companies and the homepage is filled with clickbait links to Buzzfeed, Bleacher Report, CNN, MTV and many more. Without even realizing it, users of Snapchat have made viewing these ads as common as sending a picture to a friend. And to think that the developers are really introducing weekly updates for any other reason than to keep users hooked on new features, or to provide a different way for companies to sell themselves, is crazy. This free app lives on advertisement — not user satisfaction.
Not all developers are as subtle. Facebook employs technology that actively turns your phone into a personalized marketing device. How many times have you had a conversation with a friend about a product — say, a type of drink — and upon going to Facebook discover that, lo and behold, the ads in the margins are for that exact product. Facebook really does use technology that allows it to draw on your personal information to customize ads — that includes your search history and yes, any conversations you may have within a short range of your phone’s microphone. We agree to this of course by signing “I understand” on the terms and conditions.
Possibly worst of all is that children are being conditioned and taken advantage by these greedy companies. The rise of smartphones has developed a niche market for child-oriented advertising and game development. Media frenzies on the harm of smartphone use have reported many times on children who have mindlessly paid in-app “microtransactions” for extra content in a mobile game. Companies, especially the shady ones, rely on the fallibility of children to sell this content far from the watchful eye of their parents. This not only normalizes taking advantage of children, it also instills a sense of dependency on simple, flashy and instantly gratifying games. Targeting the developmental stages of life as prime real estate to make a quick buck is a disgusting practice.
The ultimate transformation is the detachment of our personal devices from our own possession. As advertising on smartphones becomes more and more common, how can we say that our phone is really ours? It becomes the advertiser’s tool, like a billboard or a poster. And we don’t even realize what is happening. The spear of commercialization slips into our minds with deft subtlety, slowly conditioning us as slaves to the machine of mass consumption.