Irish Examiner view: Are smart phones servant or master? – Irish Examiner

Many people exhibit worrying psychiatric traits: an obsessional need to check all personal technology, disrupted sleeping patterns, and stress.
The 15 years that have passed since the late Steve Jobs announced a life-changing piece of technology to rapturous fans and employees at the MacWorld conference in San Francisco may have raced before our eyes, but the speed of technical progress has also left society struggling in its vapour trail.
At its unveiling, Jobs told the public that Apple was releasing three revolutionary products: a wide-screen iPod, a mobile phone, and an internet communications pack.
“These are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it the iPhone.”

The launch shortly preceded the first great financial collapse of the millennium. This did not stop the iPhone, which now has an installed base of 2bn units. 
It was followed a year later by the Android operating system, which has more than 3bn monthly users, the majority of them on smartphones.
Has this been good for us as human beings?
Psychologist Larry Rosen, who has written a book called iDisorder, says: “Literally they’ve hijacked our brains — and our attention spans, and our ability to withstand boredom.”
He has warned that many people exhibit worrying psychiatric traits: an obsessional need to check all personal technology, disrupted sleeping patterns, and stress.
Other academics maintain that smartphones can produce or accelerate symptoms similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder or attention deficit disorder. 
They have also identified something they call nomophobia (no more phone phobia), an increasing disquiet we feel when our phone is not with us.
A Tel Aviv University study concludes that mothers talk to their toddlers four times less when distracted by their smartphones.
We may be at a relatively early stage of understanding the impacts of our relationship with fast-moving technology, but it is clear that it has increased a number of vulnerabilities. 
We are more capable of being tracked for our behaviour than ever before. 
At one level, this might simply mean more targeted advertising which may, or may not, be acceptable to you. However, it also means covert scrutiny of our lives, both by governments and the ever-increasing numbers of online criminals and fraudsters.
This week Europol, of which Ireland is a member, was warned it may have to delete a vast trove of personal data that it has been found to have collected illegally. 
It was gathered in the kind of indiscriminate trawl that Edward Snowden identified when he blew the whistle on the industrial-scale activities of the American National Security Agency in 2013. 
Billions of points of information, reported to be the equivalent to 3m CD-Roms, have been assembled clandestinely in Europe. Much of it has come from police investigations, including the hacking of encrypted phone messages.

Human rights and surveillance experts believe this is a precursor to the establishment of a continent-wide remit that would allow data to be pulled directly from banks, airlines, private companies, and emails. 
Senior officials at Europol have also argued for access to mobile phones. Should this be a concern to ordinary, law-abiding, citizens? The answer is ‘yes’. 
We have seen during the pandemic how quickly civil rights can be suspended by politicians and it will be instructive to witness the extent to which, and how quickly, these will be restored.
For consumers and customers, a major decision awaits. Whether they are prepared to let mobile technology be the servant or the master. If it is the former, then this choice will have to be asserted, even at the loss of some favourite functionality.

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