The psychological effects of smartphones

Smartphones have increased reliability and communication but there are certain drawbacks which needs to be looked upon. Some say they cannot imagine their life without it, some say it is a means for social connect. The number of smartphone users have increased exponentially over the years as has been detailed below.

Comparison over the years

The news about the tragic deaths of infants in Gorakhpur and Nashik hospitals shocked everyone and forced the government machinery to step in on an emergency basis. At the same time, news reports of youngsters committing suicide for various reasons are a daily feature in newspapers. Although on the surface, the causes of these two sets of deaths appear different, on closer inspection, they seem to emanate from a common cause.

The immediate cause for deaths in Gorakhpur hospitals is attributed to non-availability of oxygen cylinders. Looking back on a temporal scale for the reasons for the non-availability of oxygen cylinders in Gorakhpur, one sees a much larger problem: decades of apathy, gross negligence towards maternal and child health in the state and country, leading to the non-availability of the most vital ingredient of life, oxygen.

The recent teenage suicides have been attributed to internet games like the Blue Whale Challenge, and the failure to perform well in competitive exams, etc. But if we were to travel backwards on a temporal scale, we realize that the root cause of the problem is the non-availability of an essential ingredient to human life, an oxygen of a different kind.

Cellphone is the most quickly adopted consumer technology in the history of the world. But recently, several studies are also throwing up the consequences of this technology on human beings. A study published in the Journal Of The Association For Consumer Research showed that just the presence of a cellphone next to a person or a person being present in the same room as one’s cellphone will reduce that person’s working memory and problem-solving skills.

The article in The Atlantic “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation” by Jean M. Twenge talks about the abrupt shifts in behaviours and emotional states of teenagers. The article focused on those born between 1995 and 2012, what the author refers to as the iGen generation.

Unlike the previous generation of teenagers who waited for the day they turned 18 to apply for a driving licence, the passport to freedom, the iGen generation still prefers to be driven around by their parents.

Teenagers are on their phones, sitting in their rooms, all alone. Their social life is spent on the phone. They don’t leave their rooms to interact with their friends. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of teens who got together with their friends dropped by more than 40%.

Based on data from General Social Survey (GSS), the study concluded that the number of teenagers who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled since 1985. “Zero” is the number of confidants reported by almost a quarter of those surveyed. Several other studies too have established that today’s teenagers are the loneliest generation in the history of mankind.

A 2009 study based on data collected from Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948, found that participants are 52% more likely to be lonely if someone they’re directly in touch with — friend, neighbour, co-worker of family member — is lonely. Loneliness is a contagious disease. But why has it recently gotten worse?

There is a direct correlation between loneliness and the usage of smartphones and social media. The more time a teenager spends on the smartphone, more likely that he or she will show symptoms of depression. Teens who spend more than 3 hours on their smartphones per day are 35% more at risk of suicide.

Loneliness among American teenagers peaked in 2013, the year the number of people who owned a smartphone crossed the 50% mark. The level of loneliness has remained high ever since.

India has one of the largest young populations in the world. It also has one of the largest user bases of smartphones in the world. India should be cognizant of the psychological toll of the smartphone.