The ubiquity of the internet in this digital age has made the need for a functional mobile phone near-indispensable but the attendant consequence of this bittersweet development is the rising frequency of users suffering from phone dependency.
Recent researches have revealed searches for “phone dependency” have risen steadily in the past five years, according to Google Trends, and “social media addiction” trails it closely.
Interestingly, phone addiction and social media addiction are closely intertwined, especially for younger people, who probably aren’t playing chess on their phones or even talking on them—they’re on social media.
This is how a user who may be dealing with phone dependency describes his day: “Every morning I wake up and follow the same routine.
“I fumble my alarm off. I swipe open my phone. I open Twitter, Instagram, and my email to see what parts of the world I’ve missed while I was asleep.
“My phone already knows my morning routine. It receives texts every day of my bank account balance and recent transactions.
“It suggests I open my music app when I plug in my headphones at the gym. Everything I need my phone can predict because I’ve asked for it so many times.
“My worst fear confirmed: I’ve become a clock.”
It is both scary and fascinating in equal measure: our phones are now digitalized miniature versions of ourselves.
Our phones have become so much more than tools; they’ve become an all-pervasive appendage.
We express to these devices thoughts, fear, and urges which in the past never left our own minds.
It makes sense then why most users get anxious anytime their phones are out of their reach; they exhibit this profound sense of forlornness which manifests in phone dependency.
This is understandable because these gadgets contain the intimate data of millions of users.
Our phones know even more than what we tell them. They pick up on things we barely realize.
They know our average commute time, our morning routines, how many times we attempt a text before hitting send, how many times we’ve looked at an ex’s Instagram, our spending habits, our shopping habits, our porn habits, and all our embarrassing Google searches.
Unlike us, our phones have perfect memories of what we posted on Twitter 1,538 days ago.
All of this data, more information than a single person could ever hope to recall from her own mind, live in a tiny, precious device.
With all this knowledge about what you think and do, is your phone more you than you?
Phone dependency is very insidiously subtle.
But first, what are you? This question seems obvious.
It seems that way because it’s the most basic question that we’ve never answered about ourselves; you’re you.
Like describing the taste of water, it’s difficult to think about something that we fundamentally take for granted. Let’s look at what we physically refer to as ourselves.
Our bodies change dramatically from the course of birth through old age.
We’re only vaguely recognizable at either end as in the middle but we view the changing body as one constant person.
What if some part of the person changes? Every time we cut our hair, we’re altering ourselves, but we still say that we’re the same person. The same goes for a liver transplant.
But what if we replace more than a few parts here and there?
With bioprinting becoming more tangible, it’s plausible we could replace every portion of a person, limb by limb until the body contains no original parts. Would that still be you?
Most people would say yes because the person would still have the same personality, memories, and traits associated with the original body. So is it our brains that constitute what we are?
Let’s say you get on a reality show in 2721 where you switch bodies for one week with a modern day Tuface Idibia.
You’re both on a stage in glass tubes facing each other. A machine copies every piece of data in your brain while simultaneously wiping your brain clear of that data.
At the same time, this process is occurring in Tuface’s brain, the machine downloads all of this data down into Tuface.
So from your perspective, you instantly switch from looking at Tuface Idibia to looking at your own body.
This scenario isn’t difficult to imagine and similarly has been the subject of many popular movies.
What if the transfer doesn’t go smoothly?
Instead of wiping your brain as it copies information, the machine simply copies your data and transfers it to Tuface Idibia.
To you, you never changed places.
Back on Tuface Idibia’s side of the stage, Tuface’s memory has been wiped clean and replaced with yours.
In his body, there is now someone with all of your experiences, feelings, and personality traits.
However, you still feel like you. There are now two yous. Which one is actually you?
Let’s ground this scenario a little more firmly in the digital realm.
Instead of copying your consciousness to another entity, what if another version were created from your data?
Devices are already gathering an unfathomable data from us.
We’re constantly monitoring more about our physical selves and the actions we take can already create a decent picture of how we think, react, and write.
Consider early technologies that can keep tweeting like you after you die.
It’s not so far-fetched to think that in the near future an AI could construct an online version of you, tweeting, writing, and interacting with the world in the way you do now.
On an infinite timescale, it’s not unthinkable that a mimic of you could be constructed that convinces even those closest to you.
You could die, but the rest of the world would go on living as if you were still alive.
Even if this artificial you acted and reacted exactly as you would, you probably wouldn’t be fine with it continuing to live your life while you cease to exist.
That fact negates the idea that we are our data. If we’re more than the code that dictates how we think, feel, and behave, what’s left?
As we move through our days we continue with a stream of consciousness broken only by sleep and freak accidents.
Everything that occurs from waking to sleeping is what we have in common with ourselves, uniquely.
Assuming that we don’t die every time we sleep, this collection of conscious periods is the only unique thing we have.
The nervous feeling of uncertainty that comes with death is not only because we don’t know what is on the other side — we don’t know anything other than being in our own stream of consciousness.
The idea of anything, even ourselves, living out our lives is something we can’t process.
While our phones have become greatly important extensions of ourselves, they are not us and definitely should not lead to phone dependency.
Like stories, and writing, and video, this technology is a tool.
The tool can’t replace us, but it can extend us.
We can broaden the places we can be at once.
We can increase what actions we take online.
We can even stretch into the future through pictures, writings, and the actions we take.
In that way, our data lives on after our stream of consciousness is broken.
In that way, you become more than you.