National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

There’s no easy way to escape from your smartphone

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

Two decades ago, it was still common to see articles in the media disparaging the lack of manners and self-absorbed behavior of mobile phone users. By around 2003, however, the phones had become so ubiquitous that the erstwhile complainers had most likely become phone addicts themselves.

In a rare exception, the conservative Sankei Shimbun raised the topic of “enslavement to cellphones” in January 2007 as a serious social problem that had begun to disrupt proceedings in the Diet. Parliamentarians, it reported, could frequently be seen tweaking their phones.

“From the speaker’s seat, you can see it going on. It’s shameful,” Kozo Watanabe, a senior DPJ legislator, was quoted as saying. “It seems we no longer have the sense of pride and responsibility that would serve as a good example to the people.”

That was 11 years ago. How about now? Well, a headline in Shukan Post (Aug. 10) suggests that growing numbers of Diet members may be suffering from sumaho netchū-shō. Normally netchū-shō means heatstroke, but when preceded by “smartphone” it becomes a play on words, nuanced to mean “the disease of overenthusiasm for smartphones.”

It seems that on the evening of July 5, while large areas of western Japan were being inundated with catastrophic rain, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a dozen or so members of his ruling party — a group named Akasaka Jimin-tei — gathered to attend a cozy drinking affair.

We know this because Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura tweeted a photo of the prime minister and fellow LDP legislators, glasses raised in a hearty toast. (The photo was subsequently removed.)

Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Nobuteru Ishihara also came under fire for allegedly frivolous social network posts during a national emergency.

“Previously, social networking sites (SNS) were regarded as effective tools through which politicians could reach out to voters in real time,” Shukan Post said. “But it’s come to the point where they just amble around, smartphones in hand, while fishing for favorable responses. … There may be no stopping the spreading of netchū-shō.”

Spa! (July 31), meanwhile, ran a six-page article titled “The actual conditions of ‘smartphone slaves.'”

Its in-house survey of 300 male and female salaried workers aged between 30 and 49 years found that 61 percent spend three hours or more per day using their mobile devices, with 7 percent spending more than seven hours and 8 percent from five to seven hours.

In extreme cases, accrued smartphone use reached 1,800 hours per year, which means that the equivalent of one-fifth of their waking time was spent with eyes glued to the small screen.

As for their greatest complaints, survey subjects said they felt fatigued because work-related calls continued to arrive at night (152 responses); that they were requested to provide data no matter where they were or what they were doing (122); that they had to check on their work on days off (110); that they had to keep recharging their devices to prevent the battery from running down (98); and that they were invariably grabbing their smartphone to check on work-related issues from the moment they opened their eyes in the morning (77 responses).

A 40-year-old “slave” named Seiji Maeda (a pseudonym) employed by an advertising agency gave the following breakdown of a typical day with his smartphone: 50 emails (from Gmail); 100 messages (via Line); 30 messages (via WeChat); and 20 messages (via Facebook).

Attempting to categorize the types of slavery, Spa! came up with six varieties. First there’s “SNS monitoring addiction,” in which the users constantly crave “likes” and thumbs-up to their posts from friends and colleagues.

Next is “customize addiction,” in which a user downloads all kinds of applications and devotes inordinate time to mastering them.

“Matching addiction” refers to spending long hours in search of a dream partner of the opposite sex.

“Social gamers” are so hooked they are known to lock themselves in a toilet stall at work so they can play “Monster Strike” and other popular games. And so on.

Now consider this: When you find yourself with a moment to spare, do you use the time to pull out your smartphone? Do you sometimes imagine you’re receiving a call when that is not the case?

Do you have difficulty recalling the names of friends or co-workers? Have you forgotten how to write kanji characters? Do you get disoriented on familiar streets?

Is insomnia an increasing problem?

Do you feel a general malaise, with headaches, vertigo and stiff shoulders and neck? Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy?

These are among 20 questions compiled by physician Ayumu Okumura, who heads the Okumura Memory Clinic in Gifu Prefecture. If you reply “yes” to many questions on this self-administered test, you may be suffering from “smartphone dementia.”

The subheadline in Asahi Geino (Aug. 9) explains it as “Rubbish builds up in your brain.”

It’s easy to understand why Asahi Geino likes Dr. Okumura: He recommends patients stop seeking thrills from smartphones and return to perusing tabloid weekly magazines — which, of course, not only offer titillating text but regularly run glossy color photos of partially or completely unclad young females — over the “virtual reality” that smartphones provide.

Why? For one reason, the good doctor says, “the texture of paper and smell of ink are extremely important for human beings. That’s why people should buy Asahi Geino.”

Now that is quite an endorsement! This newly enlightened writer certainly appreciates the therapeutic benefits he’s been accorded all these years by the weekly tabloids he reads.