By Gregory Kibathi with Ogova Ondego
Published July 7, 2016
Though the smartphone has been in Kenya for less than five years, it looks like few of us can go for a couple of minutes without it. The gadget has changed the landscape of how we communicate and lead our lives.
The smartphone, with its almost unlimited applications, has eased communication: you can call up a cab as easily as you can share live events and conduct research for your term paper from your handset.
However, the smartphone also interferes with our social lives as intelligent beings; it hinders that spontaneous face-to-face human interaction.
So serious is the problem that even Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and Prince Harry of the United Kingdom have cautioned users, particularly the youth, against their over-reliance on the gadget as if their worth, let alone their very existence, dependent on it.
â€œYour happiness . . . cannot be bought, it is not an app you can download on your phone, nor will the latest update bring freedom and grandeur of love,â€ Pope Francis remarked at St Peterâ€™s Square in the Vatican on April 24, 2016.
On his part, Prince Harry is reported to have told a teenage girl to get out of the habit of taking her own photographs with her phone (selfies): â€œI know youâ€™re young, but selfies are bad.â€
A ride on a matatu, a visit to a public park, a walk on a street or even attendance at a church, museum gallery or cinema shows just how the smartphone has turned us into zombies. Here, you are certain to see humans glued to the screens of their phones and utterly oblivious of anything around them. It matters not that one is on a date, listening to a sermon or a lecture or in a family-get-together; the phone takes precedence over all!
Are things likely to get better or worse with continuing technological advancement and growing mobile phone penetration that, according to data from Communications Authority of Kenya, has hit 80% of Kenyaâ€™s estimated population of 45 million people.
One is no longer certain about not being hit by a motor vehicle in towns as both drivers and pedestrians are only paying more attention to their phones than where they are going.
Besides the danger of motor accidents, these gadgets are said to emit high levels of illness-causing radiation; not to mention that the morals and wellbeing of children could be corrupted when they browse adult sites. Or do we supervise children and have a censor that would prevent them from visiting adult sites, being minors?
Come to think of it, the entire family is fixated on the smartphone when they ought to be bonding or having â€˜family timeâ€™.
Scientific research in the developed world shows that young people are susceptible to Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). This refers to a condition in which individuals cannot resist engaging with the Internet. It is a psychological disorder. When terms like Digital Detox start being coined,it is time for us to look at the issue of over-reliance on the smartphones gravely.
â€œRecent research ï¬ndings indicate that some users of the Internet spend so much time on the Internet that their personal and/or professional lives suffer,â€ says Shamira Goolam of the Psychology Department, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
According to Pew Research Centre, four out of every ten (40%)Kenyan adults use the Internet at least daily, behind South Africaâ€™s 42%. This is accessed through the smartphone or other digital device such as a computer tablet.