EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Smartphones are tearing us apart

Writer: Kevin Liu  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2022-04-25

Good friends can turn into strangers overnight. Friendship being vulnerable is just part of the story. Smartphones have amplified our differences and sometimes may be blamed for the crumbling of a longtime friendship.

The information we get from our smartphones can be contradictory, including falsehoods that many of us believe to be true.

Recently a university classmate of mine from another city came to Shenzhen and we gathered for a cup of coffee, happy to be reunited after not seeing each other for six years. We used to hang out a lot and changed our views about this colorful world. At that time, we had similar opinions on many topics.

Things were different this time. We disagreed on half of the topics, from COVID-19, world politics, carbon emission reduction to the challenge of population growth. We both were disappointed and upset. We bid each other farewell early that evening and on the way home, I was pretty sure that we probably would never meet again the rest of our lives.

Our world views and values are based on the information we receive every day. The source of information plays a pivotal role in the process. Is the "fact" accurate and complete? Is it first-hand information or hearsay? Is the media outlet neutral or biased in its judgment? Is there a hidden agenda behind their report?

When we use our smartphones, the apps would collect our every search and other information, and paint a unique big-data picture about us. The apps remember our preferences and strengthen our beliefs by forwarding unsolicited information similar to that we've asked for.

The old wisdom of "Seeing is believing" is not necessarily true in today's rapidly changing world of technology, especially when we see it on the screen, not in person. Photos can be altered and videos can be edited.

In my case with my university classmate, he and I have over the years been fed with information reflecting our preferences, based on our evolving judgement of what is right or wrong, to the point where a parting of the ways is the best way out.

In a subway train, everyone's hovering over their phones; at the dinner table, those sitting next to you prefer to play with their phone than have a conversation. The frequency of verbal or physical interactions is steadily on the decline. Man-machine interface has taken over in lieu of the warm personal exchange among family members, friends and coworkers.

How much further will this worrisome trend go?

(The writer is a bank professional-turned business executive based in Shenzhen.)