Why are you on your phone so much — Because my phone can do so much
How would you feel if you left your phone at home. Would you feel like you were missing a limb. Many people today would. The smartphone and technology in general has become an extension of ourselves. But is this a scary nightmare where technology takes over too much and makes our lives and health more dull, or is it a natural evolutionary step for us, to improve our chances of survival.
Is there a paradox today between what we see as healthy behaviour towards technology and the increasing pressure our civilisation faces to depend more on it into the future.
For some, we are way too dependent on technology. They see it as distracting from other skills that kids need to learn. It could be seen as being anti-social, with everyone glued to their phones, and not interacting enough with the world outside.
But is the online world any less the real world than our immediate world.
In an internet survey by the website debate.org, 83% said that they believed we have become overly dependent on technology.
We find it hard to think of being without our technology now for even a day without suffering some kind of withdrawal symptoms. We automatically jump to Google if we want to find something out, and some studies have found that this might have an impact on our brains ability to retain information, since we no longer need to retain it, we can just look up Google again next time we need it.
People talk about missing out on face to face interaction because of their phones.
However, others raised the points that we are not too dependent on technology because technology is just helping us to do more things. We can read the news, email, take our office with us and generally become more mobile as a result. They say that it is not the technology that is the problem, it is the way we use it. Technology can help us communicate with friends and family across the world.
Much like the debate about letting your kids watch too much TV, it can be down to how you use it and what kind of TV you let them watch. Sesame Street has been shown to have provided kids a similar level of learning to having attended preschool, while letting kids watch violent action cartoons is undoubtedly less useful.
It was also found that some college students spend up to ten hours a day on their phones, and that three out of five smartphone users in the US could not go for more than 60 minutes without checking their smartphone. But when smartphones can do so much for us, is this really all that surprising?
A study from Northwestern University revealed that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be depressed. It can also lead to disrupted sleep, due to light exposure.
Is this fear of technology part of a more general fear of change? It seems too early to say.
A study in the journal Science in 2011 revealed that people made less effort to remember things when they could expect to have access to the internet.
However, some might say that this is not a bad thing, as our memories may be even less reliable at times than Google.
Technology use in moderation can be useful, and some scientists are reasoning that it is the displacement of other activities and not the technology itself which is causing the problem with depression or stress for example.
Are we becoming slaves to the very devices that are supposed to free us? Since they make it so convenient to do things from one place, we have come to rely on this convenience.
How smartphones have changed how we see the world
Recently, I noticed something with my children. When I took out a notebook and started writing a list of things to do that day, my 7 year old son also took out a notebook and started to write his things to do. When I was reading a physical newspaper, he was reading it too. But when I was doing things on my smartphone, all he saw was that I was playing with my phone.
Apparently 46% of smartphone users say their device is something they couldn’t live without.
But should online life be any less real for us into the future? Doesn’t the online world replicate the kind of world we already live in?
We can now use smartphones to check our emails, manage our to-do list, take photo’s, check maps, listen to music and much, much more.
What used to take half a day and involve a trip or two outdoors, or a discussion with another human, can now be done from the comfort of your chair.
The very first thing we do in the morning is to reach for our smartphone to hit snooze on the alarm.
The things people can do with their phones are endless, you can keep fit with fitness apps, you can help your kids learn with learning apps, you can use GPS to navigate, have access to many recipe books for your cooking, check in at airports, book a taxi from anywhere, watch TV from anywhere, read books, identify music you are interested in that you might not otherwise have discovered, check your bank account without having to go near your bank, learn a language or a musical instrument for free.
In the past to do all of these things would have required purchasing many materials, all of which are not just a cost to us, but also to the environment, it would also have involved having to store these materials and take them around with us, not to mention having to find them in the first place, for which you had to rely on the physical store that was close to you, to actually stock the thing you were looking for.
Before technology started improving our lives, more of us worked in labour intensive jobs, and a certain amount of physical activity was good for us.
Technology has made our lives easier but has also made us less active.
At what cost
Some scientists have found that the most dramatic impact of technology is a reduction in sleep. Bright light reduces the hormone melatonin which makes you feel sleepy. Others cite the difference in face to face communication abilities among those who are using their phones most frequently.
Technology has also increased the expectation of efficiency among us, but is the level of efficiency correct and who are we being efficient for?
Technology has allowed us to focus on more intelligent work and less time on routine chores. The downside is that it is more addictive, causes shorter attention spans and makes us lazier than before.
What you can do about it
Some ways to use your phone less are to turn off notifications. Apps such as moment for IOS or quality time for Android, show how much you have been using your phone during the day. This can provide a shocking reminder of how much time you are spending on your device.
Dr Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology who wrote a book called iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, has suggested that we try something called tech breaks. This where you check your phone and restrict yourself to one minute, then you place the phone face down and set a timer not allowing yourself to check it for a further 15 minutes. After a while of doing that, you increase the amount of time you are going without checking the phone for. By doing this you build up your resistance.
The majority of people believe that technology will improve life for us in the future. But people believe it would be a change for the worse if we were to all be wearing implants that constantly showed us information about the world around us. This always on world of not being able to switch off could be detrimental for our wellbeing.
The public have been evenly divided when it came to riding in a driverless car. The majority would not be interested in getting a brain implant to improve mental capacity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has now revised the limitations it had previously advised parents to place on screen time for their children, to take into account the differences in media.
Not all black and white
Obviously some media is more educational than others and we can afford to be a bit more lenient when it comes to this kind of content. A one size fits all approach may not always be the best thing.
Previous advice was to limit screen time to no more than two hours per day, but this didn’t take account of age or the kind of content they were watching. They have even published a planning tool for families to tailor their time limits to their specific situation Family Media Use Plan.
Where limitations are needed they should be on the entertainment side of media use. The issue is when entertainment type media interferes with learning.
Because different technology content competes for attention and tries to make itself as stick and addictive as possible, this is not always the best thing for children, who should be stimulated to be curious and explore the world as much as possible and not to stick in one place or to keep coming back to one piece of content.
It is important we learn to use technology as it is a part of life, but it is also important that we know when to put it down.
Technology is designed to be addictive for us and the more we use it, the more we will want to use it. The question is not whether technology itself is useful, but how much control we will have over what we are spending our time on.
This is a key debate in our modern age, how much is too much technology. Something that without a doubt enhances our capabilities but at the same time may distract from other things. Should we find a balance and a limit to the amount of time we spend online, or should we see it as a natural extension of ourselves and our world.