The price of being tuned into technology and out of reality

Hunter Kaap Rencis

There’s a fairly decent chance that if you’re holding this article in your hands at this moment, as opposed to reading it off a screen, you’re somewhere on campus right now. 

Assuming you aren’t using the restroom, you are most likely occupying a shared public space with other students, like the bus or the hallway outside your next class. If you are, go ahead for a moment and lift your eyes from the newspaper just long enough to note how many other sets of eyes you see versus the number of your peers looking down at a screen. 

College campuses historically have been ground zero for contemporary communication methods, and they have been the origin of civil progress and forward thinking that drives our society ever onward. But to what extent are the devices that connect so many of us altering the intimacy and personal engagement that the college experience has offered those who have come before us? 

College is designed to be the environment where careers are built, spouses are courted and lifelong friends are made. The person you sit next to on the bus today could very well be a fellow co-founder of a business venture one day, and any number of avenues may open up from our time at Grand Valley State University.

But what about for those of us who spend the entire bus ride looking through a glass window to the world that is held in our hands without ever bothering to look out the window of the bus, let alone allowing ourselves the opportunity for a chance encounter or intriguing conversation with one of the people sitting nearby? 

Apple, having just announced the features of its newest “iPhone X,” revealed that if you’re going to want the latest and greatest iPhone ever, you’ll have to cough up 1,000 big ones. The company has already dictated the smart-device market with a half dozen of other game-changing devices in the last 30 years. But what does this price tag signify to the consumer and the eager tech enthusiast willing to, quite literally, give up an arm for the 10th release of the same product?

Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine Nick Thompson believes a price tag of this magnitude that has been criticized for being “evolutionary, but not revolutionary” may signal a turning point in the smartphone market as a whole. 

Thompson went on to cite studies done with data collected by the Movement app tracking the time people spent on each of their phone apps on a daily basis and asking users to rate whether or not they were “happy” with the amount of time they spent on each app they used that day. 

What the data shows is many people aren’t happy about the amount of time they spend on social apps like Facebook, as opposed to apps like Waze that serve a more practical purpose. Furthermore, similar studies conducted over the last decade have shown a very sharp curve along the line between a device making us happy and a device actually supplementing happiness and suppressing human interaction.  

In the conclusion of his review of iPhone X, Thompson reminisced that the key selling point of the iPod was that it could carry “a thousand songs in your pocket.” Apple’s goal with that paradigm shift was to untether us from speakers, tapes and CDs to free us from the constraints of being “plugged in.”

So, some believe there may be another shift on the horizon for the intimate relationship we spend with our devices. With Apple having cornered the smartphone, MP3 and tablet markets over the last quarter century, some like Thompson believe we may start to see a shift away from the clunky and in-your-face smartphones as we transition to devices that are not only smaller, but wearable. 

With facial recognition technology, and most of all augmented reality, there is something to be said about giving up your left arm to pay for the newest $999 iPhone in that you subsequently end up sacrificing your right arm by being so incessantly attached to it.  

At what point do we finally start asking ourselves what the cost is of being so in tune with technology? Are the hours a day you spend on your devices supplementing one of your five senses? And the question we maybe all should be asking is, what parts of our lives are passing us by during the time we spend looking down at our phones?