Back in 2008, I received my first ever phone – the LG Chocolate.
I was amazed – it was slick, small, streamlined, sophisticated, had a camera, and could even go on the Internet.
I mean, the Internet browser was painfully slow, sure. However, the pure novelty of being able to go online without a computer more than made up for it.
Fast forward twelve years later and I’m not sure that initial infatuation I had with phones still exists. Like a stagnant marriage, I’ve grown attached to my phone (now and iPhone) at the hip and find myself complaining about it regularly – sometimes forgetting just how incredible and sophisticated it really is. I, like many others, take it for granted each and every day.
However, recently I’ve realised my relationship with my phone isn’t actually that healthy. I check it hundreds of times a day, clock up hours of screen time, and find myself unable to focus as much as a result. Have smartphones ruined us?
Smartphones make our lives easy. We can book cab rides, order food, play games, speak to people thousands of miles away, and watch videos all with a click of a button. They have woven themselves deep into the lives of humans across the globe – and I don’t think we’re ready for them.
Humans, for all intents and purposes, are still evolving. Ten thousand years ago, we were hunting down food in the plains of Africa, outsmarting lions, tigers, and hyenas along the way. One thousand years ago, we were working in the fields, gathering our surplus of crops to put aside for a rainy day. Two hundred years ago, we were beginning to move out of the countryside and into the big, sprawling cities seeking urban employment. Our species has barely evolved to that – let alone living with an omniscient technological companion whose screens rule our entire lives.
Adrian Ward, psychologist at the University of Texas, conducted a study involving 800 participants where they undertook a series of challenging mental tasks. Some of them undertook the tasks with their phones in another room, others were allowed to keep their phones in their pockets, and the rest of them did the tasks with their smartphones on the desk in front of them. Despite all phones being off at all times, the mere presence of the devices were enough to affect the concentration of those in the latter group severely – those who had their phones in another room fared the best. Those whose phones were in their pockets performed mediocrely – their concentration still mildly handicapped by their phones.
The ability to focus, I argue, is one the most important skills in life – and it’s getting harder and harder to do that each day behind the polluting barrage of our noisy mobiles. In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport states that the ability to focus on a single task for any substantial amount of time is a skill that is quickly diminishing in the modern world. I fall guilty to this trap, too, dammit, as my ability to focus on tasks has got progressively worse each year I’ve had a smartphone. With the weight of email, Facebook, Instagram, and snapchat, working on tasks is akin to walking through quicksand at times. However, it’s not just our professional lives that are at risk – another study, conducted by the University of British Columbia, researched 300 meal-going participants and told one group to put their phones away for the entire meal, whilst the others’ had free access to their phones. As you might expect, the latter group reported feeling more distracted, less engaged, and did not enjoy the experience nearly as much as the group without their phones.
Smartphones have the ability to aid us, sure. Like anything, however, and over-reliance on them leads to problems down the road. Will humans in the next several hundred years inherit our crappy attention spans and constant need for social approval? I would hardly be surprised if that was the case. They’re also a highly insidious foe – it’s easy to lose yourself in an online game or social app and realise you’ve spent the last several hours glued to your screen – and, in this day and age, everybody else has a smartphone, too. They’ve gone from being convenient companions to dopamine slot machines over night.
I, for one, do not welcome our new smartphone overlords. But, like the sucker I am, I still let my phone rule my life every chance it gets.
Written by camerongorrie.blog for Odyssey.