It’s okay to love your phone, says Michael

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Sociologist Michael Walsh… “In emergency situations mobile technology is fundamentally important.” Photo: Danielle Nohra

AS more days about switching off technology gain momentum, sociologist Michael Walsh questions some of their messages.

There’s “The National Day of Unplugging” in March, “Social September” and coming up on February 24 is the seventh year of “MoodOff Day”.

With a 2019 motto of “Talk to Your Children Before Technology Does” the campaign is all about connecting with people rather than a phone.

It asks people to turn their phones off for five hours on the morning of the day.

But Michael, who is an assistant professor of social sciences at the University of Canberra believes it’s more complicated than saying: “Nope, it’s all bad.”

“There’s a more complex picture that these ‘turn off’ campaigns don’t show,” says Michael, 35.

“It should be about having a conversation and not about framing social media as a social ill.”

“In some ways I think it pathologises phone use in a manner that is not very helpful to this issue.

“[And] it fails to acknowledge how phones have changed social life for the better in other respects.”

According to “MoodOff Day”, when adults use technology too often it has negative impacts on younger generations.

“There are studies that show there are negative impacts (more so in the psychological sciences), but these tend to be framed in a way that only looks at the negative dimensions of phone usage,” Michael says.

“They are normatively predisposed, rather than trying to take a balanced view of the impacts of phone usage.”

While it may cause some people to reflect on their phone use, he says it shouldn’t only see technology as a negative.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing to reflect on the use of technology,” he says.

“It gives that space to allow people to think that the world didn’t end [while their phones were switched off].”

But, he says, there are a lot of positives in mobile phones and social media, too.

“In emergency situations mobile technology is fundamentally important,” he says.

“It’s also something that allows us to micro co-ordinate.”

For example, Michael says it allows people to text and say they’re on their way, or for many it’s a way to connect with others.

“You might have an interest in cooking and come across a local cooking class through social media,” he says.

“I have friends who don’t like turning off their phones because they have children.

“It’s not necessarily that they’re on their phone the whole time but it’s accessible.”

Michael says NSW schools are also sending a “phones-are-bad” message after they were banned from classrooms.

“Phones become a vital part of a young person’s network,” he says.

“[So] focusing on addictive behaviour isn’t seeing the full picture.”

There’s smarter ways of handling it, according to Michael, who says people should be asking: “How do I use my phone in a way that’s actually constructive?”

“Social media is something people use as another way of socialising,” he says.

“There’s studies that show people who use their phone on a regular basis tend to communicate with people in a 50-kilometre radius, which is in addition to seeing those people face-to-face.”

When it comes to phone usage, Michael personally tries to be reflective of his usage and often thinks about how he’s using it.

“Phones are quite intelligent and can give you infographics and information on how you can use your phone,” he says.

“I think becoming aware of your phone use is important.

“[And so is] carving out space and time to actually have face-to-face connections with people.”


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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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