Anyone who’s been outside of their cave in the last couple of years has noticed it. A creeping change, shift in social behavior, perhaps even an ailment of sorts. Walking around like zombies they are – partially aware of the goings on in their surroundings, but regularly fading into another dimension. While they can still walk and move around almost normally, albeit at a much-slowed pace, and even talk, there’s a severe disconnect that impedes normal conversation, navigation and social dexterity.

This condition has been visible for about five years but its rate of infection has increased significantly over the last two years. It currently seems to be spreading exponentially and in doing so is beginning to no longer look like a problem or ailment, rather the norm. It seems as people become infected they’re less able to distinguish others that are languishing too and rapidly forget the main symptoms of the infection itself. A societal shift is under way and how deeply it will alter human behavior remains to be seen. But the epidemic is entirely avoidable and appears set to redefine how we interact with one another.

No, this isn’t a life threatening disorder (unless you’re not paying attention while crossing the road). There’s no microscopic organism that enters the body or virus infiltrating the blood stream. It’s a social disorder of personal choice that’s not only changing our lives, but how entire societies interact with one another. Smartphonitis, the hypnotic state induced by one’s smartphone, has had a more dramatic impact upon us than almost any other invention in modern human history.

There’s no arguing that smartphones have enabled us to do some pretty neat things: get directions, view maps, share photos instantly with friends around the world, find the answer to a nagging question and keep up to date with Kim Kardashian. But negatives are dangerously close to outweighing the positives.

People bury their heads in phones at meals, even when dining with friends or family, have headphones in-ear incessantly, avoiding any chance of casual social interaction, are waging battle via crushing candies, ensuring the world knows what their mashed potatoes look like and sharing their latest musings on and about everything. But by doing so we’re missing out on the here and now of life, neglecting its pulse. Anyone with a smartphone is familiar with the compulsion to take it out when unoccupied even for a few seconds. We look at the screen when we know full well nothing new has been received, just to distract (and entertain?) ourselves for that split second.

The real question is whether Smartphonitis can be altered, corrected and beaten, or are we already so far down the rabbit hole there’s no getting back to our previously social with one another selves? Has human behavior already been permanently altered and if so, is this but the beginning of a more zombie-like state to come?

The good news that offers signs of possible hope with overcoming the affliction are incidentally stories and videos that are most likely to be digested on a smartphone. Comedian Louis CK recently went off about his distaste for the devices and explained why he forbids his daughters from having one. While his rant needs to be taken with a grain of comedic salt, he illustrates some very good points, especially our growing inability to just sit and be put for a while.

Another video gaining traction, I Forgot my Phoneshowcases the actor’s realization that those around her are missing out on life that’s happening here and now. And by ignoring those present there’s an insinuation made that there are far more important things going on than the friends and family you’re with.

Inventions like the radio, television, video game consoles and even the advent of phones in homes caused social changes and likely sent noticeable rips through the social fabric. But we adapted, quickly forgot what life was like before and moved on. Blowbacks occasionally occur, such as campaigns encouraging people to curtail time spent in front of the television, but more often than not, something’s only said once the fabric’s been torn and re-woven. Will we be present, focused and talking in another five years or is Smartphonitis approaching a tipping point that cannot be reversed?


  1. Good read, Scott. I happened to see both these videos again while at a session called Finding Balance at a technology in education conference this past weekend. I couldn’t help but think about what factors have led to the possibility of sitting at a table with someone who would rather crush candies than interact with the human beings around. I can completely relate to what Louis C.K. says in terms of using the technology to stave off loneliness. I do that all the time. What I feel the need to be more and more careful of is using it to escape while in the company of others and of course that is the point you are making. In most public situations, it is best to keep it in your pants (pocket).

  2. Laurie,

    Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.
    It is an interesting phenomenon we’re part of at the moment. I am even an offender of things I’ve shown distaste for here in the blog but am going to try and curb them.
    There’s definitely a perceived need to always be sharing which over-rides being present with people. It’s quite strange and I hope we can all get back on the path to being truly social.


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