Blog of Sara Jakša

The Cognitive Price of Technology (Or Why Opting-Out is Not Only Possible in Theory)

As a person without a mobile phone number, I always find it interesting when people say that opting-out of technology is not possible. Usually the conversation is not in the mobile phone as a way of calling people, but for example the apps on the phone or the social media or something similar. The problem is, that when people say, for example, that they are not using Facebook, they are seen as somebody making their own choice. We still consider this a choice. But try telling people that you have no mobile phone, and they will not see this as in any way a valid choice.

I know that I have frustrated a lot of people with my explanation that I can't give them a phone number because I have no phone number. More than a couple of times the people have tried to convince me that they will not misuse my phone number and I can give it to them. And here I am not talking about the marketing people, but people like my dentist, my classmates and some friends.

This is one of the choices that have become even more invisible than the one about privacy. At least with the privacy we still talk about. Use of phone or internet? Not so much, though surprisingly, there are people that have no started to talk about the utility of the television, which had that kind of invisible status, at least as far as technology goes. Which gives me hope.

The reason why I don't have a phone? I don't like what it is doing to my mind. I could notice that using a phone would produce a sort of mental quality, that I experienced phenomenologically. It was sort of like a nudge, that push, to check if there is something on the phone. Or, if I left the phone at home, that worry that maybe somebody is going to call me.

Most of the time it is not noticeable. It is just something that I think people accept in their life. When I used the phone for a while, I did not notice this quality anymore, but I did notice the relaxation that came with my quitting the phone.

I am perfectly willing to get a phone, should the need arrive. But so far I don't think that 5 times per year that I would find having the phone number helpful, is worth having this additional mental qualia.

The result on my life? I need to plan things with people in advance. I need to take into account that some people will get into trouble, like scheduling conflicts and so on, and I am not going to be informed and will need to wait for them. In either case, even going to the meetings when the other party does not show is productive, as I usually use the bike and bring the book to read. Is it less convenient? Probably, but nothing that I am not ready to handle for this piece of mind.

I think this should be done with every technology in our life. Are the positive effect worth the changes in ourselves as well as negative effects? Because technology will always bring changes in ourselves. An interesting book about the effect of print and television on cognition is Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. So it is possible that our cognition and our society change because of the technology.