The smartphone is the new Tamagotchi


The late 90s witnessed the entry of an intriguing hybrid between a doll and a game: the Tamagotchi. An electronic dependent created by Japan’s Bandai Company, it offered a simple yet compelling promise to children – a pixellated pet that constantly needed nurturing. As technology evolves, we find ourselves nurturing another electronic dependent – the smartphone, our modern-day Tamagotchi.

Attention: from game to currency

Tamagotchi, a word blend of the Japanese term ‘tamago‘ meaning egg and the English word ‘watch’, was an egg-shaped keychain with an LCD screen that hosted a tiny digital creature. This handheld digital pet engulfed its owner in its care, waking them in the middle of the night for sustenance, requiring cleaning and attention to ensure healthy growth, and even possessing the ability to ‘die‘ if neglected.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, we have traded-in these digital creatures for another, much more sophisticated creature: our smartphones. It is far more than just an object. Like the Tamagotchi, it demands constant attention, is always hungry for a battery charge, and offers a wide array of ‘needs’, ranging from updates and notifications to apps requiring user interaction.

In the hands of millions, these omnipresent devices demand a large chunk of our daily attention. They keep us entertained, connected, updated, and sometimes even offer solace. They are a constant companion, a source of perpetual engagement – much like the Tamagotchis of yesteryears.

Switching roles

As we get more and more entwined with our smartphones, we must question the impact of this dependence on us, specifically the level of technology penetration in our lives - the lesser seen dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) in personal tech.

It’s not so much a fear of AI becoming a dominating, directing force, but rather the danger lies in AI becoming something deeply needy and emotionally manipulative. As AI becomes more advanced, the algorithms governing our devices are designed to make them more personable and appealing to us. They cling, persuade, insist, and plead with us to pay more attention to them. They motivate us to stay connected, to keep feeding, nurturing, and playing with them.

This increasing neediness of our devices highlights a potential pitfall. What happens when we start replacing human interaction with ongoing digital interaction? In a world where genuine human contact is already dwindling, will we end up hallucinating social presence, forging emotional bonds with our AI ‘pets’, and turning to technology for companionship instead of other human beings?

Maintain control, keep your humanity

Our tech gadgets are our grown-up Tamagotchis, always beckoning for our attention. We pour our affections into them, sometimes at the expense of real-life connections. As AI increasingly infiltrates personal tech and our lives, it’s imperative to examine the social and psychological trade-offs we unconsciously accept. After all, life is more than clicks, scrolls, charges, and updates. It’s essential that we ensure our smartphones remain our tools, not our masters or needy digital pets. We must control our engagement rather than let the engagement control us.

For the future of technology is not just about advancements, it’s also about preserving humanity in a rapidly digitizing world. After all, it would be a paradox of monumental proportions if the very tools designed to improve connection end up creating more disconnection. It’s up to us to ensure that as we continue tapping and swiping, we don’t lose touch with the real world.

10 tips to stay human

  1. Digital detox periods: Designate specific times of the day or week as smartphone-free zones. For example, meal times, the first hour after waking up, and before bedtime can be phone-free periods to help you disconnect and engage more with the real world.
  2. Mindful notification management: Customize your notifications to minimize distractions. Turn off non-essential alerts so that you’re only notified about things that truly require your attention.
  3. Prioritize face-to-face interactions: Make a conscious effort to engage in more in-person conversations. Schedule regular meet-ups with friends and family, prioritizing direct interaction over digital communication.
  4. Use technology mindfully: Before picking up your phone, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it out of habit, boredom, or genuine need? This mindfulness can reduce unnecessary screen time.
  5. Establish tech-free zones: Create areas in your home where smartphones are not allowed, such as the bedroom or the dining table. This can help encourage more meaningful interactions and better sleep hygiene.
  6. Embrace single-tasking: Focus on one task at a time without the distraction of your smartphone. This practice not only improves productivity but also reduces the constant need to check your phone.
  7. Limit social media usage: Set a daily limit for social media use. Apps that track your screen time can help you stay within these limits by reminding you when it’s time to log off. Update 2023: Recent OS updates to iOS and Android have introduced native wellness settings that can serve as a mechanism to give you back your time.
  8. Engage in non-digital hobbies: Rediscover or pick up new hobbies that don’t involve screens, such as reading, painting, cooking, or gardening. This diversifies your activities and reduces screen time. How about getting a real pet and learning how to train him? ;)
  9. Use analog alternatives: Where possible, use non-digital versions of devices and tools. Opt for physical books instead of e-books, write in a journal instead of a notes app, and use a traditional alarm clock instead of your phone alarm.
  10. Digital literacy education: Educate yourself and others about the impacts of technology on mental health and relationships. Understanding these effects can motivate more mindful usage.



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