Smartphone use has had a negative impact on personal identity

Shane G. Brown, grad student at Lamar University

February 19, 2023

According to columnist Ken Grabowski, spam can leave a bad taste in your mouth, whether it’s food, email, or phone calls.

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Since the rapid growth of smartphone ownership began in 2010, smartphones have become a common sight in the western world. For most, the smartphone is the primary source of internet access in their daily lives. Hugely popular services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have presented us with complex and troubling questions about identity and its place in the new economies of the internet age. In this paper, I will argue that the near-universal use of the smartphone has led to negative consequences for personal identity and created new exploitative microeconomies.

Through social media we have developed fractured identities, often discarding or integrating aspects of ourselves depending on which platform we present ourselves on. With each iteration of our identities online, we create an avatar through which we display a facet of ourselves. The fragmented aspects of the user’s personality impact their day-to-day interactions with others while complicating the more intimate ideas they hold about themselves. This disconnect between interpersonal and community relationships often propels the user deeper into Internet communities to forge superficial and parasocial connections with others in an ever-expanding universe of virtual interaction.

Each of these avatars represents a sub-aspect of users’ desires, and each latent desire is exploited by advertisers through data analysis and predatory advertising techniques. In the past, advertisers relied on data gleaned from extensive studies of consumer market trends. Today, these agencies can extract the individual’s desires through their online presence and present them with highly specific advertisements. These agencies are even able to generate renewed interest in a product through paid “influencer” endorsements of a particular product by other avatars.

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Where the exploitation of our attention ends, the exploitation of our purchasing power begins. In the past, advertisers had to rely on roadside billboards in rural areas or banner campaigns in cities to connect with consumers. In this way, a consumer’s time to purchase could be managed depending on their physical proximity to the advertised product or products. In the past, the need to order something through a catalog or to travel to the nearest city to purchase an advertised product lengthened the time frame between consumer engagement and purchase. Instant access to the internet marketplaces has cut the time to purchase down to minutes as online retailers have flash sales and offer services like curbside and lightning fast delivery times.

In summary, many of the so-called “advancements” in consumer culture and social media have further alienated us from a true sense of community fostered by face-to-face interactions. They have also alienated us from ourselves in a way, exploiting our attention and spending power. These changes are the natural impact of our near-universal use of the internet, particularly through our smartphones, for every imaginable facet of life. One way to combat some of the effects of this phenomenon would be to urge people to take a more active role in their communities, shop in person and from small businesses, and limit social media use.

Written by

Shane G Brown