Effects of Smartphones on socialization and the link to mental health

We are all socialized differently. This is because we are raised from different backgrounds. Our beliefs and norms are also differ based on the exposure we get as a result of socio-economic factors and those who mentor us.

For the last few weeks, I have been wondering why many people could be suffering from mental health, depression and loneliness. I scanned the environment through my own intelligentsia and concluded that our social fabric has been infiltrated by another monster called the cellphones especially the smartphones.

Unlike feature phones, smartphones have sucked our lives. In the era of Artificial intelligence, the smartphones have taken part of our brains away. The smartphones control our calendars, payment of bills, and our uptake of water as well as shape our opinions through the social media platforms.

We can’t function without our smartphones next to us or around us. Assume you forgot your phone and you already boarded a matatu to work, that day will be ruined because the “love of your life”-the smartphone was not around you. You will stay at work wondering if something went wrong even if at work you had the opportunity to login into your social media or emails.

I’m not abhorrent of the evolution of technology but are we now becoming slaves to our mobiles. Is human socialization dead? Are human beings still having real conversations? I doubt it. You cannot have a straight 60 seconds conversation with a fellow human being before they pick their phones and check what is going on social media or a chat app. Having a proper conversation is becoming a deficiency or a disability.

In a family setup, children no longer have conversation with themselves. They have more conversation with their “friends” online. If they must have a conversation it is not about themselves but about other peoples’ lives posted on social media. This is mostly driven by what celebrities and “influencers” say or do with themselves. Did you know that a majority of the things people post on social media are fake and they are just fulfilling their “wishes”?

On the other hand, today’s parents are always on their phones. Father is on his phone looking at the latest issues on football or politics or “boys” WhatsApp group as mother is busy is on “girls” what’s app group or a social media platform. And you wonder why your children have become victims to cyber-predators or becoming suicidal. No one cares to listen to them at home or know what is happening around their world.

As a result of their busy schedules and the “hustle” life, parents are just fulfilling one of the most important role which is just providing. The rest of the parenting roles have been abdicated to the teachers and house-helps.

During dinner, in most families today, they do not sit at the dinner table to have dinner and discuss how their day was. Instead, they would take their food and besides them would be their phones entertaining them.

When did you just enjoy your meal to the fullest or the highest fulfilling level without having your smartphone around you? When did you have a proper discussion at the dinner table about issues affecting you, your children, girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife?

Furthermore, when families go out for dinner or an outing or a vacation, a majority will always be on their smartphones. At the beginning of this year, a Catholic priest wondered how he walked into a restaurant during Christmas day and there was this family where the father, mother and the children were all on their phones as they waited for their meals. The strangest thing was that immediately they gave their orders to the waiter, everyone went back to their phones. And immediately the food arrived, the same thing happened as they took their meals. The priest wondered what had happened to the family fabric. What happened to people having conversation as normal human beings and not addicted to their phones?

In addition, when you go into a club with friends, a majority will not have a five-minute conversation without everyone removing their phones and start engaging with their friends on Facebook or WhatsApp. Most of the conversation will be about what is happening online and as they say in my profession social media has become the “agenda-setting” platform. You can be having drinks with a friend but him or she is suffering inside. If only you could ask how everyone is doing and what they are struggling with, a solution can be found to help them. Thus why you see people posting about themselves and their struggles and 90 percent of those who see the problem would only sympathise rather than help them.

If we are waiting for aliens to come from space to come and terrorize our lives, we are wrong. Smartphones are already terrrorising our lives. We have turned into zombies if not aliens. We have become robots and aliens at the same time. Our socialization is lost. I miss the days of my grandfather when we could just sit around a bonfire, he tells us stories and educate us about life and how to become better human beings.

Our lives are today pegged on what people say about us on social media. Fake affirmations have become the norm today because we spent most the time on this platforms. Even though something as to give so that technology can become successful, we need to guard our humanness. Our human touch has gone with the touch of the smartphones.

In a recent article written by Bob Collymore, Safaricom CEO and published by one of the dailies, he notes that: “Think about it: When was the last time you really had a conversation with somebody, without looking at your phone? When did you last switch off voluntarily, and not because your phone ‘died’? It’s ironic that the mobile phone, the device that keeps us connected to the world around us, is also disconnecting us from the people closest to us. We claim to be more connected than ever, but we barely speak to each other anymore. Our devices are replacing real human connection, and it’s time to reclaim what we’ve lost: conversation.”

At the same time, one of the richest business moguls and technology enthusiast, Bill Gates has put strict rules for the use of mobile phones and other technologies to his children. He has banned the use of mobile phones to his children until they attain the age of 14.

In an article published by the Mirror in April last year, Gates is quoted saying: “You’re always looking at how it can be used in a great way – homework and staying in touch with friends – and also where it has gotten to excess.

“We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal, we didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.”

If CEOs and founders of technology companies that are coveted for their huge innovative success stories can warn us about the excesses of mobile technology, who are we not to listen and slow down and go back to being humans?

As I conclude, Let us just be human and listen to each other’s stories even they don’t make sense. There is always something beautiful that comes out by having a face to face conversation. You can help someone who is depressed or did not have a solution to his or her problem(s). Our relationships can become better as families or friends.

Nothing invented on the surface of the earth that will ever replace the humanness or human touch.

Alex Owiti is the Managing Director and Founder of Alexander PR and Communication Network

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