ADOTAS – Ever since I read it as a boy, Ray Bradbury’s story 1953 “The Murderer” has haunted me. In the near future a psychologist visits a patient at an insane asylum who has given himself the moniker of “the Murderer” — he doesn’t slay humans, but any piece of technology that bombards him with media, advertising, communication and propaganda. When the psychologist enters the Murderer’s cell, he immediately grabs the doctor’s wristwatch/communication/media consumption device and smashes it.
Every day I see that future inching closer into being — when I read the time on my first cell phone I immediately thought to the scene in which the Murderer smashes the watch. That flashback hit me again the first time I saw someone watching TV on on a mobile.
I’m a sucker for art that suggests the lunatics are running the asylum. One of my favorite Pink Floyd songs in “Brain Damage,” which includes the classic line: “The lunatics are in my hall/the paper keeps their folded faces to the floor/and every day the paperboy brings more.” “The Murderer” fits well into this category — is he really the crazy one when the rest of us seem to be sucking on a digital media and social networking IV drip?
A study of 200 student iPhone users (70% of who have had their phones less than a year) by Stanford University found that 10% consider themselves completely addicted to the device while 34% marked a four on a five-point addiction scale. Another 32% fear becoming an iPod junkie any day now. Only 6% claimed they were not addicted at all.
Three quarters of the students said they fell asleep with their iPhones in bed with them while 69% said they are more likely to forget their wallet than their iPhone. Forty-one percent said losing their iPhone would be a tragedy — I wonder if it would be as murderous as “King Lear.” About 25% of those surveyed said they consider the iPhone an extension of themselves — why do I keep hearing the Doctor Who theme song and thinking of Cybermen?
Apparently this might not be a bad addiction, the Stanford researchers say. Seventy percent of the students claimed the iPhone made them more organized while 54% swore they were more productive because of the device.
“I don’t think it is really unhealthy. I think they really like their iPhone[s],” the survey overseer told TechNewsDaily. Quick — somebody get her a Nobel Prize!
Still I’m not going to jump on the “My god! It’s an epidemic!” bandwagon. I can’t help thinking of the media hysteria surrounding “Walkmen zombies! and then “Discmen zombies!” and then “iPod zombies!” “iPad zombies!” may be next, but the “iPhone widow” — when a significant other is squeezed out by the homewrecking device — could beat it to the sensationalist headlines.
However, media addiction has been on the rise in our culture for a long time — my favorite quote recently was from The New Yorker’s George Packer, who called Twitter crack for media addicts. It’s one thing to be hooked into the media vastness that is the Internet via a laptop or desktop, but the gradual switch to mobile sets off some alarms — 56% of public wifi users surveyed by Jiwire used a mobile device or smartphone to access the Internet. A PC you can step away from; the mobile you take everywhere so you can get a fix whenever you want.
I guess acknowledging you have a problem is the first step, and it’s actually strangely relieving that 15% of these students recognize that they’re becoming media addicts. Thing is, media addiction is not a bad thing for interactive advertisers. I received a press release the other day in which a company gloated it had the most addictive games for the iPhone. If people are always hooked into the stream, there’s limitless opportunities to engage them.
But do you want to reach users or junkies? Because getting through to junkies is next to impossible.
Alas I’m no “Murderer.” I’m even nudging the higher powers at Adotas to hook a brutha up with an iPhone. However, I plan to keep on reading books on the subway (unless Adotas or Apple — wink, wink — hooks a brutha up with an iPad) and no mobile device will take the place of stuffed bunny Mr. Fluffles in my bed.
(Another great satirical short story about being overwhelmed by media, particularly centered on digital advertising, is “My Flamboyant Grandson” by George Saunders. In this future, strips stitched into shoes help target holographic pop-up ads in real life. Anyone in this industry should be thoroughly amused.)