The purpose of the mobile technology is to make our life easier, and there is no dispute that there are numerous benefits as well as challenges that came with the dramatic uptake in use of mobile smartphones. In this article, I concentrate on some of the top social and cultural benefits and difficulties that came with the ascent of mobile technology.
The Positive Social Impact of Mobile Technology
Just let’s look around. Nowadays, the typical smartphone we purchase for an equivalent of a weekly salary replaces our landline and pay phone, the point and shoot camera, camcorder, Walkman and CD player, Dictaphone, radio, calculator, gaming console, the watch, alarm clock and many other devices. The newest smart devices are even equipped with GPS satellite navigation, act as debit and credit wallets, and are 24/7 connected to the Internet, giving us instant access to news, online encyclopedias and provide instant weather or stock quotes. We can communicate with our friends through instant messaging and emails or use our smartphones wirelessly for tasks that were only available to our desktop computers not so long ago. Moreover, there is so much more at our fingertips. As of March 2017, there are about 2.8 billion apps available for download for Android platform alone. These are apps that allow us to use offline maps, call taxi through Uber applications, or watch YouTube videos wherever we are. Furthermore, with third party devices, we can even use our mobile phone as a medical device, monitoring our health in real time. We can safely conclude that most of this positively contributed to our lives. The mobile technology gives us unprecedented flexibility and communication. It is one of those “greatest inventions that makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier.” (Glaeser, E., 2011).
Important Social Issues of Mobile Technology
However, as the overall trend of using a smartphone is exploding, with mobile usage expected to increase eleven-fold by 2018, we as a global society also face some unforeseen, yet frequent social and cultural issues.
The mobile devices threaten our security and “challenges our individual freedom in both workplace and private place” (Milyas, 2017). Some of the issues we see on daily bases are:
- A personal eye-to-eye communication is almost nonexistent nowadays; most communications occur in online space.
- In comparison to person to person discussion, online debates tend to be less polite, and people do not behave in an accountable manner in online chatrooms.
- We see the invention of a new language, people shorten words and use emoji to express emotions (Thompson, C., 2017).
- Using a cell phone or smartphone is known to distract drivers. In 2014 alone, “3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers” Distraction Driving (2017).
Those are just some of the social impacts.
However, as this article is not meant to go to details on the huge variety of social issues, I only concentrate on the problem of security of the mobile platform and social aspect, which I see as having one of the major impacts on our society.
Security of Mobile Applications
I perceive the security as one of the most important ethical and social challenges of mobile technology.
Forman, G. H., and Zahorjan, J. from Washington University in the paper called ‘The challenges of mobile computing’ predicted the mobile security issues as early as 1994. Their paper states that authors of mobile applications would ”focus on reaching the goal of the application and the issues pertinent to software design, without delving into the lower level details,” such as security of the application.
As we know, since 1994, the mobile technology boomed, but it is quite visible, that not much has changed in approach to security. Let’s briefly look at the some of the chilling trends.
- In 2016 alone, over 1,378 billion breaches were detected, with mobile platform taking a prominent role. (Gemalto NV, 2017).
- The Skycure Study reports that “25% of all mobile devices encounter a threat each month” (Kohli, V., 2015).
- Kaspersky Lab shows that 1-in-5 Android users already experienced a mobile threat (Kaspersky Lab, 2017)
- Ponemon Institute survey confirms that almost half of all organizations do not have an official policy for securing corporate data on mobile devices.
As we just realized, the developers of mobile apps still tend to ignore the overall security of the design, which leaves consumers who download and use the application open to a wide assortment of issues.
In my opinion, security of mobile devices is a very significant social issue, raising many questions. A hacked cell phone can listen to everything we say, record video through front and back camera, monitor all our keystrokes and capture our banking and other passwords.
However, the security threads remain unrealized by most mobile users. As of 2017, almost “75% of mobile apps would fail basic security test” (Gartner, 2017) and “Only 53% of users who download mobile applications are concerned about potentially getting hacked” (Security Intelligence, 2017).
So, I am asking: Do we, global society of mobile users, truly realize the potential impact of the mobile devices on our privacy?
Social and Health Issues
We live our lives virtually, through the lens of technology and tend to neglect the real world that is out there. I go on a train to downtown Toronto every morning and in my estimate good 60% of people stare at their cell phones. “By 2017, over a third of the world’s population is projected to own a smartphone, an estimated total of almost 2.6 billion smartphone users in the world.” (Statista, S., 2016). We can safely say, that our entire society has become addicted to smartphones.
This addiction comes with many negatives, some of which are back and neck problems. Telegraph reports that 45% of young people aged 16 to 24 now suffer from back pain as their spinal disks are put under pressure when using the smartphone. “That’s a 60% rise from 2014!” (Knapton, S., 2015). Smartphones are also linked to long-term, serious side effects such as ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’ or ‘occipital neuralgia’ which is a condition where spinal cord nerves become compressed or inflamed. But smartphone usage is also linked to anxiety & depression, stress, worsening of fitness level, disrupted sleep, bad attention span (Microsoft research suggest so), indirect injuries (disturbed driving). Smartphone use is also negatively impacting our vision and hearing (26 million Americans suffer from the noise-induced hearing loss).
But the worst part is the social impact. Instead of connecting people together, many of us feel that smartphones are actually making our society even more isolated, less physical and more virtual.
It’s not uncommon in my line of work, to go to a meeting, where half of the people keep always checking their phones like there was some emergency to happen. This leads in many cases to a somewhat disrupted life, because the trend doesn’t apply just to the meetings, but as we can see, also to our daily lives. We can observe that people are less present in their social interactions and also less connected to others (on a deeper level).
Researchers from the University of Essex also discovered that people who discussed individually and personally relevant topics when a cell phone was nearby (even if they weren’t being used) reported: “lower relationship quality and less trust in their partner” (Andrew K. Przybylski, Netta Weinstein, 2017).
As we can see, we have a problematic relationship with our smart devices, while they positively impact our lives, they also tend to disrupt our social interactions and negatively affect our health.
So, what is the way out of this dilemma? Perhaps, it’s just to put down the phone from time to time and concentrate on people around us, our family members, friends, and colleagues.
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