21st Century Tech Diet

Roughly 77 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, up from 35 percent only five years ago

By Dillon Tabish

I hate goodbyes, but I never fathomed the agony I would experience bidding farewell to my smartphone. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Granted, the phone is only supposed to be gone for one week — Apple is replacing my faulty battery but forcing me to hand it over to a mysterious repair factory somewhere far away — but its absence has immediately thrown my life into chaos. How am I supposed to communicate? What time is that meeting on Thursday and how do I get there? What did our president tweet about today?

Let me be the first to warn you: technological cold turkey causes a jolting, jittery paroxysm in this digital age. Whether you like it or not, smartphones have become ubiquitous in everyday life in a relatively short period of time.

I didn’t own my first cell phone until I was a sophomore in college in 2004 and it seemed pretty unnecessary at the time. Why would I want my parents to be able to reach me at any given hour?

And then the world changed in January of 2007. Apple announced the first generation iPhone. It wasn’t the first “smartphone” in the market, but it was certainly the most exciting and alluring and it prompted a dramatic sea change.

Fast-forward 10 years, and the ripple effect has been more like a tidal wave.

Last week, when I was preparing for my abrupt trial of digital fasting, the Pew Research Center released its latest study on Americans’ increasing tech consumption. According to the data, roughly 77 percent of Americans now own a smartphone. Five years ago, just 35 percent of Americans owned one. Even more pronounced, 92 percent of young adults 18 to 29 years old have a smartphone.

Naturally, the increasing ownership has fueled the revolutionary rise of applications. That annoying slogan — “There’s an app for that” — has proven prescient. Finding directions, taking photos, listening to music, banking, shopping, scheduling — my smartphone is pretty much tied to my entire functional way of life. I even downloaded a meditation app that helps me — get this — detach from my digital dependence.

This dependence can certainly be disruptive, and in some ways, disturbing. The privacy concerns of the 21st century — post-Snowden — make “1984” seem more non-fiction than novel. Insert 2016 election email hacking synopsis here.

In the economic realm, the emergence of e-commerce has shell-shocked many sectors. The traditional retail industry has especially struggled in the modern marketplace, which has expanded into a full suite of online shopping options, primarily Amazon. Just recently, Macy’s — one of the nation’s oldest and most prominent department store chains — announced it was shuttering 68 stores and eliminating roughly 10,000 jobs.

Just days after the Macy’s news, Amazon — the emperor of e-commerce — announced it was creating 100,000 jobs by 2018. USA Today reported that most of the jobs would be low-paying positions at “fulfillment centers” in California, Florida, New Jersey and Texas.

Local businesses face an uphill battle in competing with Amazon and other online retailers that can undercut prices and avoid many capital costs. Without preaching to you about your shopping habits, I’d like you to imagine what our valley would look like without the local businesses that fill our downtowns, attract visitors and create local jobs.

The tech tidal wave will only continue to sweep us up — autonomous vehicles, industrial automation, and on and on. The possibilities are as exciting as they are unsettling.

All this uncertainty makes me want to meditate. If only I had my smartphone.

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