Some time in 2018, a group of children filed out on the streets of Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany, to protest against how smart phones had distracted their parents from taking care of them. Their protest chant was, “We are here. We are loud because you are just looking at your mobile phones!”
The protest was led then by seven-year old Emil Rustige, who said, “I hope that after the demonstration, people will spend less time on their mobile phones.” He also noted, “Here is a message for parents: play with me, not with your smartphones.” I saw the Deutsche Welle clip recently and it resonated again with intensity.
Though the protest was held in Hamburg, it could have also been in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt or any of our cities and towns in Nigeria as we are all the same. We are effectively in the season of passive parenting and active ‘onlining’. We are in the age of technoference, meaning “interruptions in interpersonal communication caused by attention paid to personal technological devices.”
As Merriam Webster Dictionary puts it further, “It’s that thing where you’re looking at your phone or tablet and you don’t hear the question your kid or your friend or your mum or your boyfriend asked you.” Technoference simply happens when anyone is addressing you and you tap or look at your cell phone or when you constantly check your phone while engaged in an unrelated task.
At the family level, just as the protesting children indicated, it adversely affects the family relationship or introduces a gulf between parents and children. It negatively affects cognition. It has also been attributed to poor language development among children, who learn from gaze following or “the ability to align one’s own gaze with others to focus on external objects.”
Virtually all of us are guilty of this pervasive nonsense. From the spiritual to the mundane, we hardly concentrate on anything without checking our phones to know the latest. That has caused attention deficit and social tension as we pay more attention to those who don’t care about our existence at the expense of the real people our life revolves around.
In the mosque, hardly do people finish their worship before they hold their phones to check the latest updates or messages. On Fridays and Sundays, the sermon will be ongoing while members of the congregation are glued to their smartphones, consumed entirely by the shenanigans of the cyberspace, especially the social media. The same thing applies to students on campuses while lectures are going on.
A few years ago, I lost my cell phone while on a journey. It was naturally painful as I lost contacts that were not backed up. However, the work that I had wanted to do for some time was completed on that trip. I realised then that technoference is a great enemy of productivity.
This is a season of blessings with pilgrims in Mecca performing pilgrimage but technoference has made many to assume that they cannot go to the Grand Mosque without their smartphones. Where absolute devotion would have been required, taking photographs, recording videos, posting them online and reading comments have eroded the full gains of pilgrimage from many a pilgrim. The nonsense of technoference is so real you can touch it!
At meetings and conferences, technoference prevails as the benefits of physical encounters and interactions are lost. In offices and work places, more time is spent on the phone, hopping from one social media platform to another at the expense of the actual work at hand.
The consequences of technoference are varied. The short-time consequences include unfinished tasks, forgotten responsibilities, weight gain, anxiety, mood swings and poor learning outcomes due to distraction. The long-term effects manifest in back pain, neck pain, vision problems, naughty children, broken relationships, tension and lack of fulfillment.
Guarding against technoference requires certain steps that you can take starting from monitoring and limiting the time you spend online. You can determine right from the beginning that a maximum of one hour or two is set for the smartphone in the morning, if you are a student. Then, you can set offline time so that you are not online all day even if you can afford it, especially if you don’t earn a living online. You can also uninstall certain applications like games while opting for those apps that help to control your time.
Technoference is a disease and its cure begins from realising it as one to taking action against it. There was life before the advent of the Internet, please!