Millennials, Smartphones and Digital Separation Anxiety in the Postmodern World


Have you ever been running late and realized you forgot your smartphone at home and still came back to get it? If you can live without your mobile phone for a day, then all is well and good. However, millennials - young professionals, college students and teenagers will not be able to tolerate an entire day being "disconnected".

Let's face it, kids these days are digital natives. At home, they are their parent's technical consultant. They can figure out how to use an app or even make one. Google is 18 years old, the World Wide Web is 25 and the internet is 45 - the age of most young people attached to their tablets, smartphones and wearable gadgets.

A report from Bank of America confirmed what parents and teachers knew all along: we are extremely dependent on our smartphones. We have an "overwhelming reliance on devices to navigate everyday life, and moreover, that mobile devices have only increased their impact on our closest relationships and daily interactions, which many admit is most often with their smartphone." The report said.

While a study in Singapore showed that smartphones helped students get better grades in school, it also noted there is prevalent smartphone addiction among young people.

What an educator observed as the "anxiety of the disconnected" also been the subject of many studies and psychoanalysts and scientists have given it the name: nomophobia.

Research done from Iowa State University School of Education found the undergraduate students feel the following when separated from their smartphones: 1) they can't communicate with people; 2) loss of connectedness; 3) they don't have access to information; and 4) they feel inconvenient and can't accomplish anything.

Jean-François Lyotard described postmodernism as the loss of the "big references in life" like myth, religion and philosophy and replacing the void it had created with consumerism. We seek satisfaction by hiding behind our devices instead of confronting our situation.

"What social networks create is a substitute ... you can add friends or erase them, control the people with whom you interact." Said Polish sociologist Zygmun Bauman. This is why most of us prefer the kind of "relationships" social media facilitates and feel really anxious and disconnected when we don't have our devices and we lose control of these so-called connections.

This "anxiety of the disconnected" is rooted deeply in the fact that when the device that shields us from reality is gone, we have to perform those social functions we are so used to doing virtually in person. Without a screen to help us create a life we want the world to see, we are anxious that the world sees who we are actually, and it causes our deepest anxieties.

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