WTF Is Going On?

Scientists say smartphone addiction has morphed us into human snails

We now carry 'our homes' in our pockets

16 May 2021 - 00:01 By and aspasia karras
'The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it's become the place where we live,' says anthropologist Daniel Miller.
'The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it's become the place where we live,' says anthropologist Daniel Miller.
Image: 123RF/MELNYK58

If you're starting to suspect that you're living on your smartphone, you're right. You are.

Research from University College London shows that the 3.6-billion people with smartphones have morphed into versions of the common garden snail. After studying smartphone usage over a year and a half in nine countries as diverse as Ireland, China and Cameroon, the conclusion is that we're now "human snails carrying our homes in our pockets".

Prof Daniel Miller, the anthropologist who led the study, said: "The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it's become the place where we live. The flipside of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we're with can just disappear, having 'gone home' to their smartphone."

Who can blame us? The real world is a pretty grim proposition. Plague, conversation, no filters. Who wants that stuff? Back home "in your phone" you can mediate experience to within an inch of reality. You can craft a universe that's an idealised version of your best self. You can put your best foot forward, and present that foot in all its pedicured glory. Your family can play nicely on their group, your Instagram can filter your actual life into a glorious sepia-tinted, design-led wonderland, while your sex life can be replaced by peach and brinjal emojis and side swipes. You need never do anything IRL again.

And if you thought this "death of proximity", this tendency to retreat into your virtual exoskeleton, is a tragic by-product of the screen generation who've never lived in analogue, think again. The study is called The Global Smartphone, beyond a youth technology. And it focussed on the aged. In other words, not the youth.

The dictionary has shed some light on the question. The definition of home is twofold: as much as a home is the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household, it is also an institution for people needing professional care or supervision.

If you're carrying your home in your pocket, which one is it?


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