Good morning, lovelies, and welcome to Autism Awareness Month! I was planning to keep this month entirely autism themed, as it’s obviously pretty important for an autist like myself, but as usual, I got distracted and angry about something else. However, you can check out other AAM content on my YouTube channel and Facebook page (links below).
It should come as no surprise to any thinking person that smartphones are actually a global conspiracy created by Satan himself in order to turn us all into antisocial loners with the reasoning power of gnats. Why would Satan do such a thing, you ask? Well, my sources are pretty unclear on this point, but it has something to do with young people being the literal worst and new things being Scary, and basically just Everything Is Bad Now. The strange thing is that this criticism isn’t just coming from the Usual Suspects (I mean old people – they’re always whining about something, right?). People from the Mobile Generation are producing Edgy Art(TM) showing the great evils of smartphones in modern society. Because we all know the best way to combat Satan’s apocalyptic nightmares is by producing emo art.
My most recent favourite is an image of a city being attacked by a giant squid-beast (because realism can get fucked when you’re trying to Make A Point) while a group of people apparently stand around filming it with smartphones. Ah, such original, thoughtful commentary on the horrific fate of our society, as we all attach ourselves to our screens and film disasters instead of helping.
Okay, okay, I don’t actually believe Satan would use smartphones as a way to destroy the world. Or if that is his plan, then he done fucked up, because while I agree that the technology making smartphones possible is definitely not without its problems, there are also a lot of positives – something that is true of almost every new technology. Human beings have a long history of mistrusting new things, and as our technological abilities increase, so does our ability to improve and create new technology, which means our world feels like it’s moving way too fast for a lot of us. When I was a teenager we had to walk fifteen miles in the snow just to use Word 95 to type an assignment. Okay, slight exaggeration, but I don’t miss having to wait for Mum to finish a phone call so I could chat to my friends on MSN Messenger. The idea that I would, fifteen years later, be able to look up the Woolworth’s opening hours on my phone, or download music, or chat to my friends whenever I wanted, was pure science fiction to me. And I have to admit that I do groan a little when I see new updates, or realise that my phone, which I love, will be basically obsolete in another six months or so. I am alarmed at the disposability factor involved in this ‘progress’, and the fact that our values and laws are always slower to catch up with these changes than we really need them to be (although these factors are not caused directly by the technology itself, but rather humanity’s existing values, unwillingness to change unless forced, and inability to look more than a few days at a time into the future. Also, capitalism…)
But let’s look more closely at the biggest criticism of smartphones and associated social media, which is that we are “all connected, and all disconnected, all the time”. While this may be true for many of us, and while this constant sense of connection can have its downsides, it’s not a universal evil. This constant connectedness has allowed marginalised communities to find others like them, to create safe spaces – even if they’re only virtual ones – where they can discuss their lives and issues with others like them. It has spawned political revolutions, literal revolutions, and while they might not always have the best outcomes, this potential can also have really, really obvious upsides. This technology has allowed us to find support systems that were previously not available to us. Instead of suffering alone, many of us are supporting each other, and finding our voices. Perhaps it seems like we’re all suffering more than we used to, but the truth is, we’ve always suffered. Technology hasn’t increased our suffering, but it has played a role in showing us that we don’t have to accept suffering, and that we don’t have to suffer in silence.
In the last three days alone, I’ve been contacted by three different friends who were struggling with their mental health and just wanted someone to talk to. In the same time, I’ve reached out to friends for the same reason. These supports simply weren’t there before. Not only can we reach more people more quickly and more easily than before, we can also do it in a way that is possible while we’re having a literal panic attack. Some of us are reluctant – or completely unable – to reach out for help in a crisis because we simply aren’t able to articulate our problems aloud, on the phone, or to someone’s face. But messaging provides an alternative form of communication, with its own nuances and dialects, that gives us a way to reach out, as well as more people to reach out to. This technology has saved my life, and the lives of people I know. And yet what gets focused on is that it makes us selfish. This has not been my experience at all. Through social media, I have found some of the kindest, most generous, most loving people I know. And social media and my smartphone allow me to build strong, supportive relationships that are just as valuable as any formed through ‘traditional’ means.
And, in the spirit of AAM, it pays to add that for those of us who struggle with ‘traditional’ social interaction, this technology allows us ways to form relationships that we are otherwise incapable of forming. Criticism of social media has a very strong ableist element that simply cannot be overlooked. Not all of us are able to form relationships with people we meet in our ‘everyday lives’. Some of us can’t leave the house regularly. Some of us simply CANNOT approach people we don’t know. Some of us are considered ‘weird’ or ‘freaks’ because we aren’t able to fake neurotypicalness all the damn time, or because we can’t ever look someone in the eye, or because we’re too loud or too quiet or don’t quite ‘get’ how personal space works. Some of us have visible disabilities that make able-bodied people uncomfortable, and we all know how privileged people get when they’re uncomfortable… Social media and smartphones give us access to people like us, and the ability to form relationships without being judged for our atypical social interactions, or the way we look, or the way we move through the world. In an ableist world, this is literally life-saving. And similar things can be said of other marginalised communities – it’s not easy being a person of colour in a white supremacist world, or being visibly queer in a heteronormative cissexist world, or being fat in a fatphobic world. Social media gives us alternative support groups, and smartphones give us access to those supports whenever we happen to need them.
So next time you see one of those pithy commentaries on how we’re all being swallowed by our sodial media and smartphones, remember that it’s not always that simple. Nothing is perfect, but neither is it universally evil. You never know whose life a smartphone has saved.
Sorry, Satan, not today.
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All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.
Image from: https://www.canterbury.su/opportunities/discounts-savings/mobile-phone-charging