WA News Letters Phones not the problem
Phones not the problem
Written by Dr Skye Croesser
Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Dear Editor,

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by technology. Even as a ‘professor of the Internet’, as my friends jokingly refer to my job, there are times when it feels impossible to keep up with the demands of email and social media. But it’s a mistake to focus too closely on smartphones, even with their pervasive reach into our lives.

Dr Astrid Arellano’s recent suggestions around setting tighter boundaries on smartphone use are an excellent starting point. Turning phones to silent, or off completely, can help us refocus on the present and the people around us. It can also be useful not to install work email or social media apps like Facebook on our phones, or to turn off notifications.

Most apps will notify you when a friend posts an update, when someone tries to communicate with you, or even when you haven’t opened them in a while. That’s because they’re designed to meet companies’ needs, not yours, and most companies make their money from selling your data and attention on to marketers.

This also provides a hint as to the underlying problem, and it’s not smartphones: it’s the increasing spread of work, and advertising, into our leisure time.

There’s been significant media coverage of France’s “right to turn off”, allowing staff to disconnect after working hours. This legislation only passed because unions in France retain a strong role in advocating for better working conditions.

Workers in Australia, including in the health services, may be able to manage stress by turning off their phones. But in many cases, this will have an impact either in terms of direct pressure to be more available, or through longer-term assumptions about how ‘committed’ someone is to their career.

This makes it vital to look beyond our smartphones. We also need to think about how we organise to limit working hours and maintain reasonable workloads. Ironically, social media have become a key campaigning tool in such struggles.

Dr Sky Croeser, Curtin University