Our obsession with our phones threatens to impede our basic cognitive and social development
“Get out your laptops and go to Canvas.” This phrase is heard so often by students that they often forget how much of their school day they spend staring at a screen. “Go like and comment on my recent post.” These words cause our free time to be filled with such meaningless activity that we end up judging our self-esteem from the small number that appears above the word “followers” on our Instagram profile. We scratch our heads and wonder, “Why do our students think they’re not good enough?
From the rise of Gates to the works of Zuckerberg, completely removing technology from our daily lives would be nearly impossible. However, with 39% of our young adults reporting addiction to their phones and a University of Missouri study linking anxiety and depression to excessive phone use, our devices are taking over our lives. Who knows, you might have already checked your phone before you get to the second paragraph of this editorial.
We turn to our devices for everything. According to the American Marketing Association, your brain on “smartphone” medicine is the same as your brain on cocaine: we get an instant high, or release the pleasure chemical “dopamine” every time our screen lights up with a notification. Dopamine reinforces and motivates behavior that makes us feel good and, in turn, can be addictive. Our attention spans are diminished at the mercy of our screens; a 2017 Microsoft study shows that goldfish can concentrate longer than us. Our addiction even goes so far as to hurt our natural desire to experiment. real face time and instead makes us prefer talking to a face on a screen or hidden behind a screen.
In a 2017 study, looking at the increase in teen depression and suicide, the CDC noted an increase in the rates of both over the years 2010 to 2015, and found that teen suicides increased by 65%. The number of girls suffering from severe depression increased by 58%. Although only a correlation, the team found a strong relationship between mental health issues and an increase in “new media screen activity”. About 48% of those who spent five or more hours a day on their phone had thought about or planned suicide, compared with 28% of those who only spent an hour a day on their phone.
Apple demonstrated its awareness by introducing the Screen Time feature in iOS 12 2018 update, a settings feature that allows iPhone user to monitor the time they spend on their phone. However, this surface-level solution is the equivalent of telling an alcoholic to turn off his booze but leave him the key.
For change to come in a world characterized by its rapid technological advancements, we must recognize that there is a time and a place to use our devices and, more importantly, times to put them away. Schools and businesses should encourage their students and employees to “shut down” from personal devices during free time to improve mental health and productivity. Ask a trusted friend to change your social network password during the school day to increase your productivity. Setting time limits on applications is a step in the right direction, however, the method is purely a band-aid solution. Additionally, smartphone makers should make greater strides in using cognitive methods to limit our screen time. Today’s technology has the power to do exceptional things. It is up to us to decide whether we can use this technology to our detriment or to our advantage.
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