We are cyborgs. As Merriam-Webster would put it, we are “bionic humans.” Electronically enhanced.
I know that sentence is easy to file into the realm of the overhyped. It’s definitely not an original thought. But, I would ask you to do something that I doubt others have asked. Reread that sentence. Slowly. Really take it in, and just accept it as a fact.
Say it out loud to yourself: “I am a cyborg. I am a bionic human.”
If you own a mobile device in 2018, chances are that sentence is true. You are literally evolving into a human-machine hybrid at this very moment. How?
Well, allow me to explain. Mobile devices have ceased to be 50lb ugly, monstrous, satellite bricks that only filthy rich criminals portrayed by Michael Douglas can afford.
Michael Douglas, Wall Street (1987)
There are still massive problems with accessibility to technology but, by the end of 2018, 3 billion people will start their day by powering on smartphones. Not only are smartphones seemingly everywhere, if you walk down the street you’ll see people clutching their phones in their hand like it’s a winning lottery ticket.
That ninja grip isn’t because they’re worried about dropping them.
It’s because mobile devices have increasingly become battery-powered extensions of our bodies that project us into the digital world. They are a portable second brain, powered on with the press of your thumb, accessed with a scan of your face. They give you unlimited access to unlimited information.
And you might say “Yeah, so what?! I love my second brain.”
And I’ll say, “Okay, well have you heard that super quotable but really overused phrase ‘There’s been more data created in the past two years than in all of human history?’”
You’ll say yes, and then I’ll say, “Let’s unpack that.”
You see, we can’t just have unlimited access to unlimited information and not use it. So, we have. Every second, we search Google 40,000 times, watch 69,000 YouTube videos, share 9,000 photos on Snapchat, and send 266,000 texts and 2.6 million emails. Every minute, we send $52,000 over Venmo and we complete 46,000 Uber trips.
Our mobile devices are at the center of almost all conscious and subconscious daily activities. Alarms. Calendars. Emails. Texts. Notes. Lists. Weather. Podcasts. Music. Videos. Rides. Food. Rent. Exercise.
And that has consequences.
Mobile devices have begun to rewrite what it means to be human, evidenced by tectonic shifts in something that fundamentally defines our human identity: our brains.
Your brain is changing.
Stand in any line and you’ll see most people biding the time scrolling through Instagram. Enter any café, conference room or workplace and you’ll likely see the ol’ smartphone salute — phone firmly and courageously planted downwards, usually on top of a notebook or in some other conspicuous place. Enter any bathroom and you’ll likely find someone using their phone. Taking care of a bodily need? Might as well check Snapchat or read a quick email. There’s no way we’re sending 266,000 texts a second without texting on the toilet.
The silliness of this reality should quickly be overshadowed by its seriousness. Our smartphone habits are indicative of an addiction, an addiction with many biological consequences. Smartphone users have different brains. Brains that are stressing us out, causing us anxiety, making us feel phantom vibrations, making us jittery, destroying our attention spans, erasing our ability to remember, the list goes on.
Why? Our brains simply weren’t wired for all of this information.
But that hasn’t stopped us yet. Fears and cautionary tales about the effects of devices have existed since I was a young kid. And the result? I’ve been awake for 13 hours today and I’ve probably spent close to 10 of them looking at a screen.
Here’s your “so what.”
You are a cyborg.
You know that your technological enhancement (your phone) has some negative consequences but you’ll put your brain through the wringer anyway. So will I. We need to consume that information, no matter the cost. We’ll adapt. Oftentimes without really thinking about it.