It is commonplace now to note the ubiquity of the smartphone in everyday life, says Paul Rouse.
There is no aspect of the modern world that has not been reshaped — in whole or in part — by the revolution taking place all around us.
Whether you lament the way the smartphone has changed the way people relate to each other, or whether you celebrate the possibilities created by their apparently boundless capabilities, there can be no denying the transformation that is being wrought on our social life.
At the extremes of this phenomenon, the addiction that is consuming the lives of those who are hooked to living online is painful to observe. Like every addition, it pushes into a life and distorts it in ways that are absolutely destructive.
Online addiction does not wreak the immediate and apparent physical toll that, say, addiction to alcohol or drugs or food usually does. But there is nothing benign about its danger: at its worse, it colonises human interaction with a compulsion to sacrifice everything to immersion in online activity.
The content that flows from such immersion can range from shopping to gaming to celebrity fixation and much else. The illusion that there is no end to the possibilities that can be found on the internet is partly what makes it so attractive.
The problem with this particular behavioural addiction — now acknowledged as a clinical disorder — is that devising ways to mediate its impact is not straightforward. The manner in which so much of modern society — both in terms of popular social communication and, even, economic affairs — now revolves around smartphones leaves it very difficult to live a life entirely offline.
And whatever prospect for such a life there is for people who have experienced a world before smartphones, there is none for those who have been born into this digital revolution.
In truth, the better way to judge the impact of how smartphones are changing how we live is to look at their impact on people who would ordinarily be considered fairly normal.
It is right here — in the mainstream of life — that we see most clearly how the smartphone (building on the capabilities of the internet) is changing how people live.
Inevitability, the world of sport reflects what is happening across society. That is made abundantly clear in Dara Ó Cinnéide’s excellent GAA Nua series.
The benefits of some aspects of the change brought by technology are obvious. In terms of the basic organisation of clubs and teams, the use of WhatsApp groups has made communication easy and immediate.
You can also see how smartphones are being used to share clips of matches and other research and analysis. This is evolving all the time and will continue to evolve as the technology improves.
It would be foolish to say that this has not enhanced the sporting world. But it only enhances it when used properly and in context. A new gadget is just a new gadget if it doesn’t have an obvious purpose that fits with all the other things happening around sporting performance.
There is a thing that happens in many sports whereby a particular approach to fitness or to preparation is adopted by a particular team. That team then wins. Everything is then simplified and the equation is made between the particular fitness approach and the fact of success.
If word leaked out that the Dublin senior football team were eating nettles for lunch and walking around the city wearing shoes made of bamboo shoots and ossified whale blubber, you can be fairly sure that the eating habits and footwear of various teams all around Ireland would soon be shifted to accommodate the great breakthrough that had been discovered.
And the same thing happens with technology. The casual links made between cause and effect in the use of technology has allowed some people make a lot of money out of the use of certain products which they sell.
There is a basic question though: is this kind of investment in technology the best use of resources by a club or county?
And is the research done in advance to determine precisely the real impact, worth, function, and shelf-life of the technology?
History is filled with examples of people who have sold any amount of elixirs and potions to heal the sick — and to heal their sick animals. Alongside them have been centuries of shamans, claiming access to the spirit world and claiming, also, the ability to influence that world.
There are more than a few shamans and potion sellers rattling around the GAA fields of Ireland. They wear modern garb and come adorned with all the trappings of modern technology.
When it comes down to it, there are still immutable truths out there that defy time and technology. One of those is that the team with the best players (in terms of skill and mental application) usually wins, once you get to the sharp end of a season.
The production of the most skilful players still demands lifelong coaching of the highest standard and a cultural commitment from a player to spend as much time as possible with a ball.
This is not to argue that technology has no role — or that the changes in the capabilities of using that technology are unimportant. This is obviously not the case.
But it should never be forgotten that it is the capacity to analyse and properly apply information — and not simply to amass and regurgitate it — that remains central.
The skills of seeing and understanding never go out of date. And you don’t need a smartphone to appreciate that basic truth.
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