When the Peanut cartoons were around, one of the more familiar images was Charlie with his security blanket. He frequently dragged it around with him. In my early teens, I remember younger siblings, from time-to-time, toting their security blankets around the house. My mother actually called them security blankets. She said that holding the familiar blanket had a calming effect making a child, like the name implies, feel secure. Psychologists call it “security blanket syndrome.” Thankfully, children eventually grow out of it.
Now, humankind may have entered an evolutionary stage where entire generations are coping with a new type of security blanket syndrome. Except the blanket has been replaced by the smartphone. Never before in the history of humanity has a behavior affected so many so quickly.
The phenomenon is evident just about everywhere in the world. From city streets, transit systems, restaurants, cafes, workplaces, homes, just about anywhere and everywhere, smart devices are by our sides, or in our face. Most people, it appears, would be lost without it. And the vast majority would never leave home without it.
During the first half of my life, cellular phones and smart handheld devices didn’t exist. They weren’t invented yet. Today, toddlers are issued iPads and no young teenager, young adult, or fully-developed human is ever without a smartphone.
There’s no doubt that these devices are loaded with benefits — incredibly advanced tools that have improved our ability to learn, as well making us more proficient and effective. They are even quickly replacing our wallets. At the same time, our new found security blanket has gradually taken control. Our smart devices have become our subliminal master.
The biggest indicator that this instrument has taken over as our security blanket is during periods of aloneness, even, or especially, when others are present. It’s so obvious when people arrive at a restaurant, a metro car, or a waiting room when the first action is taking out and turning face toward the handheld device. It’s like most of us are uncomfortable just being in our own heads. We’ve got to be connected and occupied at all cost, like a fix — as long as it’s not with the strangers around us.
If it were all about efficiency, productivity, or learning it would be one thing. But whenever other device screens are in my line of sight, which is often, I see abundant scrolling of social media sites like FB, (executing the rapid thumb flick and hold, stopping at each image for a split second before flicking to the next screen), playing games, scroll chatting, or watching soap series. It’s ubiquitous, and it’s an obsession.
If we don’t think our handhelds are the not humanity’s new security device, we could ask ourselves if we could leave home without it. That accidentally happened to me the other day. I was 1/2 kilometer away on my pedal bike heading to work when I realized I left my iPhone at home. I stopped immediately. It was windy and cold. The thought of backtracking was not appealing, but neither was spending the day without my device. My head was instantly spinning with the scenarios, “How will I,.., What if,…Can I….?” I finally shook myself out of the sudden analytical stupor and decided to forget the device. It wasn’t crucial to the day. I continued on my way to work with a suddenly empty feeling. How, I thought, could not having a handheld device make me feel insecure like I was missing something? Strangely though, that hollow feeling turned into one of freedom. I returned home later that evening without a scratch, no worse off for not having had the security of the device with me all day.
Could that be an occasional exercise, I thought, leaving home from time-to-time without my smartphone? If the feeling would elicit emptiness, insecurity, or loneliness, turning to one of freedom, it might be an exercise worth employing. At the very least, I can make an attempt to viciously resist the temptation to pull out the device, without specific purpose, so that I don’t become a screen slave to its powerful psychological pull.
On one hand, it could be said that our new gadget-turned-sidekick is expanding our human experience. But on the other, if or when we become subservient, we could be capping it.
I’m not even close to giving up my device. To the contrary, I love having my little companion close by. At the same time, I’m recognizing that there may be internal training required to show the device which or who is boss. If there is a security blanket syndrome present, I’d better make sure it is coming from the device and not from me. 🙂
Test Question, (to determine the level of security blanket syndrome): Is your smartphone the first thing you reach for upon waking up in the morning?