Tag Archives: smartphone

Ditch your smartphone and build a diorama

The smartphone is the latest in a long line of technologies which have transformed the way we communicate. Television, personal computing, video games and smartphones have made our lives more convenient and more entertaining. They have also shortened our attention spans. By forcing our brains to adapt to increasingly condensed communication, they permanently change the way we process information . . . for the worse.  

The more accustomed we become to the technological shorthand of texts, likes, and swipes, the more trouble we have with anything that requires more time and concentration, like reading a novel or creating a work of art. This is why bookstores and hobby shops have been vanishing from the retail landscape over the past few decades. So few people have the patience to read a book or dedicate themselves to a hobby, that retailers are running out of customers. 

We naively assume that if something is harmful, we’ll be warned. But the medical community only addresses illnesses which it has permission to address. This is why television sets, computers, video games and smartphones carry no warning labels. The profits which technology companies and media giants generate are more important than your health or mine. 

Television was the first mass market technology to degrade our attention spans. Cinema had already condensed storytelling from 500 page novels to two-hour movies. But TV was the real game changer, because it brought movies into the family home, and people could immerse themselves in it all day long. Television condensed storytelling even further than the cinema. An hour-long format became the standard for drama and variety programs, and a half-hour format was used for sitcoms. And woven into these programs were commercials, which could tell a story in as little as 15 seconds.

The Internet was the next major technology to alter the way we communicate. Emails replaced letters. So instead of receiving a card for your birthday, you now get an email with an animated gif (and you wonder if the sender was too cheap to buy a card and mail it). Unlike television, which is passive, the Internet is a two-way medium. Its impact on the way we process information is thus twice as powerful, because it trains us to both send and receive information in a specific way. 

The effects of television and the Internet pale in comparison with the smartphone. This is the ultimate Attention Deficit Device. Its market growth has been astonishing, and in some countries, smartphones are more common than potable water. 

The smartphone mobilizes the Internet. Liberated from the desktop computer, we can now indulge our social media habits wherever we go. We’re on our phones all day long, whether shopping, eating, driving to work, or walking in the park. Why are they so addictive?

Every time you receive a notification on your phone, your brain releases a feel-good chemical called dopamine. Pretty soon, you become accustomed to this never-ending parade of dopamine hits, which are just as addictive as the nicotine in cigarettes.

The result is that people never put down their phones, because they experience withdrawal symptoms if they do. And the longer they spend on their phones, the more their brain adapts to process the brief, shallow and impersonal messages they send and receive. The human attention span is being shortened to accommodate the smartphone paradigm. And no-one seems to mind making this personal sacrifice to the clever little device glued to their hand. Smartphones are running the show. 

But this is the inevitable march of progress, you say. Well, that depends on how you define progress. At some point, you’ll need to have a face-to-face conversation with an actual human being, care for an infant, or do something else that requires more than a few seconds of your attention. This is where the trouble starts. Suddenly you don’t have the patience for it, because your brain can only handle one-line text messages. And a face-to-face conversation may not provide the dopamine hits your phone does, so the downward spiral accelerates. Pretty soon you start to avoid real human interactions. What kind of progress is that?

So although it may be fun to text, swipe and tweet all day long, be aware of the Faustian bargain you’re making. In return for convenience, entertainment, and ego stroking, your little plastic Lucifer is rewiring your brain, shortening your attention span, and making you anti-social.  

Like quitting smoking, it takes a lot of willpower to give up your smartphone completely. Most people will never do it. So what can you do? 

Rather than quitting cold turkey, the way to combat smartphone addiction is to gradually increase the time you spend on other activities you enjoy. As a reader of this blog, you know the solution: build a diorama. 

The process of building a diorama, from inspiration to conception and construction to completion, is intensive and time consuming. These two qualities make it the perfect antidote to the brain deadening effects of the smartphone. If you’re able, set aside a separate room where you work on your diorama, and—this is important—never bring your phone into the same room. The more you work on your diorama, the more your brain will thank you.

The feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment you get after finishing a lengthy creative project is something your smartphone can never provide. Remember the last time you finished a diorama. You felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. That’s because you reached the reward centre of your brain the natural way . . . through discipline and perseverance. In this age of technological distractions, it’s easy to forget that through the hardest work come the biggest rewards.   

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

 

 

 

The smartphone and the diorama artist

Some technological advancements do more harm than good. The smartphone is a good example. The original idea behind this seemingly harmless little gadget—providing people an affordable, mobile communications device along with Internet access—was sound enough. And in the hands of a responsible and self-disciplined user, this is exactly what the smartphone would have provided.

Unfortunately, responsibility and self-discipline fell by the wayside, leaving us with the typical smartphone user of today: an attention craving narcissist with a short attention span and a need for instant gratification. Addicted to social media, games, and the app of the moment, this mindless drone has eschewed the physical world for the instant gratification of cyberspace.

Aside from the obvious need for artistic talent, what are the personal qualities that make a good diorama artist? Traits like patience, dedication, a long attention span, the ability to concentrate, and a strong work ethic come to mind. The smartphone is a threat to all these things, because it prevents these traits from developing in children and weakens them in adults.

As smartphone prices have dropped, the number of users has multiplied exponentially. They are now part and parcel of the urban landscape, meandering down crowded streets at half the pace of normal pedestrians, head down, frantically texting with both hands. They don’t watch where they’re going, so others are forced to jump out of their way to avoid collisions. They remind me of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation, those half-human, half-machine aliens that served a central machine consciousness called The Collective and had no independent will of their own.

Did the scientific minds behind the smartphone anticipate that their nifty little invention could encourage and amplify some of the worst aspects of human behaviour? Probably not. But it’s fair to say that the marketers who popularized this attention deficit device understood the commercial benefits of addicting an entire populace to their product. With each new game and app, the addiction intensifies.

Most addictions are harmful because they either directly endanger the health of the addict or alter them in a negative way. Let’s look at what smartphone addiction does to people.

Text messaging is one of the cornerstones of the smartphone’s feature set. Since this technology encourages brevity, full sentences are no longer used. Messages are radically condensed. After repeated exposure to short messages, the brain adapts, and longer messages become harder to process. After a while, no-one has the patience to read sentences or paragraphs.

People used to read books on public transit. Now, everyone is playing with their phone. We’ve become so used to abbreviated character strings that wading through an entire book seems like a chore. Our attention spans are getting shorter by the day.

Phone drones are not just on the city streets. These automatons indulge their addiction in cafes, restaurants, and even movie theatres. Try talking to one, but better make it quick. At the first opportunity, they’ll turn away to check their phone. This constant phone checking begins as a habit, and then develops into a nervous tick repeated hundreds of times a day.

Killing conversation is not the smartphone’s only achievement. By making the brain lazy, it also affects our ability to concentrate. A good test of this is how far you can make it through a novel. Can you remember all the subplots and minor characters? Or do you find yourself getting frustrated at the amount of mental energy you need to stay on top of the story? The proportion of the population that reads fiction has been declining for decades, so you’re not alone if you feel that getting through a long novel is a struggle.

If people don’t have the attention span to engage in a passive activity like reading a book, how does this bode for creators, builders and inventors, where even greater energy and mental discipline is needed? Michelangelo spent two years creating his David. Without the rigorous work ethic he held himself to, this monumental task might have taken much longer, or may not have been finished at all. I wonder how many modern day artists gave up halfway through creating the masterpiece that would have catapulted them to fame, because they got bored and decided to squander their time on Twitter instead.

And regardless of whether you’re a painter, sculptor or diorama artist, you need to have the ability to tune out external noise and concentrate single-mindedly on a task. In other words, you have to be comfortable with being alone with yourself. For the phone drone, this is a horrifying prospect.

The lack of research on smartphone addiction is surprising when compared to the enormous efforts taken to curb vices like cigarette smoking. Cigarettes still claim more lives than fatal traffic accidents caused by texting drivers. But unlike smokers, drivers who text often kill innocents along with themselves. So they aren’t harmless.

The damage wrought by the smartphone—which can be summarized as fundamentally weakening mental stamina—has gone largely undocumented. Social and psychological phenomena are notoriously hard to quantify. There are no smoking guns and no corpses to count. Apart from the odd YouTube video or independent blog, there is virtually no discussion of the effects of this tragically misused piece of technology. The mainstream media is silent on the topic. And there is a reason for this.

To governments and global elites, a socially alienated, weak willed, and undisciplined populace is highly desirable. People are easier to control when their attention spans are too short to make critical arguments against the status quo, and when they give up their real friends for ones they’ve never met, courtesy of Facebook. Because when their friends are gone, they must turn to the government for help.

Governments also like to know who you are, where you go, and what you do. Your smartphone provides them with this information. It’s a core component of the surveillance state, and you’re paying for it. And even better for governments, anything you text, say or tweet on your phone is evidence that can be used against you for the rest of your living days. We’ve opened Pandora’s Box, and we don’t even know it.

-Ivar