We buy into becoming digital Cyborgs as we adopt Smartphones, Wearables, and Echo/Siri devices

Nearly half a billion people are no longer just plain humans


In January, 2018, according to Pew Research, 77% of American adults owned a smartphone. In South Korea 88% of the population have a smartphone, and 74% in Israel. Some cultures seem to resist the phenomena -- only 47% of people in Brazil and 39% in Japan have smartphones. But that is still quite a large number.

The way these devices insert themselves into people's lives is at least as important. Many people sleep with their phones, become anxious if their batteries are low, or cannot keep from checking them many times per hour. Wearables are paired with smartphones, as are many home IoT devices (smart coffemakers, doorbells, cameras, clocks, speakers, lights, windows, window blinds, hot water heaters, appliances, cooking utensils, etc). And many "Smart homes" have multiple Alexa or other Internet-connected "smart speakers" that can act as surrogate memories. Any question? Just ask Alexa. As Macworld points out, "Like other Echo devices, the Dot lets you use just your voice to check the weather, play music, shop on Amazon, get news updates and of course, control smart devices". Smartphones or Echo devices can also directly control smart power plugs, smart light bulbs, smart light switches, thermostats, robot vacuums, security cameras, doorlocks, doorbell cameras, garage door controls, kitchen appliances, and smart sprinkler controllers.

The degree to which people want constant connection to the Internet varies widely by age, country of origin, education, occupation, and socioeconomic status. Those most enamored of cyborg status seem not to notice the time and effort needed on their part nor the degree to which all the interaction with (primarily) their smartphone change their lives. And youth seem most eager to become cyborgs. One multinational survey of young people, to no one's surprise, shows that Internet addiction is widespread among youth worldwide, at least among the relatively affluent.

Different connections to other computers or to the Internet at large create different dependencies and predominate in different demographic groups.
  • Social media addiction is primarily via smartphones although people also connect via home or office computers. When you see people hunched over their smartphones in public places (or even when walking (and unfortunately sometimes when driving!) they are usually interacting with social media. Academics have studied the kinds of addiction that results.
  • Smartphone dependence, which is often accompanied by social media dependence, is considered an addiction which now has a formal name: nomophobia. Signs of smartphone addiction are: having a hard time completing tasks without checking your phone, sneaking off to check your messages, apps, or social media, and taking your smartphone wherever you go, even to bed, or to the bathroom, or even the shower.
  • Smartphones are windows into a virtual world that is completely separate from the world around us. Once people turn on the phone to check news or weather, many, if not most, people find it difficult to look away from this virtual world and reengage with the real world. If the engagement is also an interaction with virtual "friends", e.g., texts, tweets, or other social media interactions, disengaging is even more difficult.
  • Smartspeaker addiction takes over when you are up and about or doing things that require your vision...driving, cooking, working in your office, or taking care of the house or kids. You can still connect to the virtual world by "talking with" Alexa or Siri.
  • Smartwatches generate dependency too, as do fitbit devices. It is noteworthy that Garmin sells a smartwatch for those who wish to hide their dependence on smartwatches. It provides both GPS and fitbit-like functions in a non-obvious way.
  • Those committed to the cyborg life-style typicallydepend upon multiple access points to the Internet: a smartphone, a smart watch, AND perhaps multiple Alexa or Siri devices in various rooms in the home and office.

    The effect of the Internet on human society and on individual humans will continue to emerge in unforseeable ways over years. The effects of the invention of the printing press in the 1430s, the invention of the telephone (by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876), and the invention of radio, photography, movies, television, steam engines, cars, etc., only became clear years later as they were viewed in hindsight. Like it or not, we too cannot quickly or casually predict the effects of the Internet on us as individuals, as families, towns and cities, or as large-scale cultures.


    Last revised 9/6/2018