Can you ever imagine being without your smart phone or other small device like an IPad or laptop? Sounds inconceivable? How about for only 24 hours? Sounds easy enough perhaps, but according to a University of Maryland study, going one day without their smart phones was asking too much of many college students. The study, called “The World Unplugged,” asked college age students around the world to leave their cell phones behind for one day; just one day. An alarming 70 percent flat out couldn’t do it and researchers discovered that the psychological impact on those who did partake was significant. Participants reported being bored and emotionally detached from the rest of the world. Scary, right?
Are smart phones society’s latest addiction? Some would say yes, including most of the 91 percent of Americans who own a cell phone. According to author Sherry Turkle, who wrote the bestselling “Alone Together” and was recently interviewed by “CBS This Morning,” all of these devices have made us more disconnected, not more connected, and we have virtually lost the art of conversation. It doesn’t just come down to actually calling someone and talking to them though. We’ve all been annoyed by that obnoxious person in a store (or while getting a pedicure, which I recently experienced…the nerve!) talking at length on their phone and in a tone loud enough for everyone to hear. So conversing with someone is clearly not the answer. The answer is sometimes just putting your phone away! I don’t care if you’re expecting an important phone call. If you are, then maybe you shouldn’t be in Target or getting a pedicure!
I am as guilty as the next person, although I don’t pick up calls when I’m in a store or other public facility unless it’s my husband or daughter. I do, however, text a lot and check for updates on various sites. I’m an information junkie. Once a newsie, always a newsie, right? The minute I’m alone or simply idle, I reach for my phone. I email, I text, I tweet, I play Words with Friends, and I post on my beloved IPhone. Look around, everyone else is too. My husband just texted me from an airport yesterday saying “everyone is on their phone.” I was thrilled to hear he’d bought a new book at the airport, although when sitting at home watching TV, he is texting away. Considered a “skill” by many, texting now boasts its own competitions and people of all ages can now be found typing “tmrw,” whr r u,” and other abbreviations. When it comes to texting though, 18-24 year olds have us all beat. They reportedly text some 3200 texts a month!
Still, these phones aren’t only bad for us socially; they are proving detrimental physically too. Last year alone there were more than 1000 emergency room visits due to texting, not including automobile accidents. Yep, according to “Conde Nast Traveler,” staying connected and plugged in have some real health risks including:
Obesity: studies show a correlation between body weight & computer use: the more you use a computer, the more weight you are likely to gain.
Heart rates: stress levels and heart rates increase by frequent e-mail interruptions.
Posture: Slouching while checking your phone can lead to chronic back strain and permanent bad posture.
Body tension: constant computer and/or smart device use can lead to headaches, neck pain, backaches, eye strain, and even tendonitis.
Attention and accuracy: thanks to the Internet, we are faster but sloppier when it comes to attention to detail, spelling, punctuation, and proper grammar.
Memory: computer hard drives are quickly replacing our brains’ “memory” and hurting our abilities to remember things on our own, without the use of constant technological reminders.
There’s always a flip-side though, and in this matter it comes from UCLA Neuroscientist Gary Small, whose research has found human brains can sometimes actually be more active while searching the web then they are while reading a book. Small says researching on the Internet can also serve to sharpen our brains and has found significant increased brain activity when studying the elderly doing so.
Maybe it all goes back to our “primitive instinct to want to gather information and to know everything that’s going on around us,” according to Nicholas Carr, who wrote the book “What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” He told “CBS This Morning” that this fact, in and of itself, is a good thing but it’s become a bad thing because of the constant flow of information in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world. We just can’t seem to get enough and there’s always more out there, always. This constant demand for more, more, more and an endless stream of information are messing up our brains though according to Carr. In fact, so many distractions are “beginning to crowd out all the calmer, quieter moments when you might engage in reflection,” says Carr.
I remember talking on the phone in my house growing up…a phone that was attached to the kitchen wall. Now I’m virtually attached to my IPhone and everyone says that’s a bad thing. I also remember people saying the same thing about television, but somehow we’ve all survived what Bruce Springsteen sang about in “57 Channels and Nothin’ On.” However, when college students say they can’t give up their phone for a mere 24 hours and say that “media is my drug,” when the latest YouTube hit is a baby “pushing” on a magazine wondering why nothing is “coming up,” and when the mere thought of forgetting my phone at home makes me nervous, maybe we’re facing something more serious than too many channels and too many reality shows. Maybe we all need to face reality and admit that our so-called smart phones are making us do some pretty dumb things. Can you hear me now?