Rethinking Smartphones

Rethinking Smartphones

Is it time to break up with our smartphones? 

With the overuse use of smartphones comes the possibility that we lose our capacity for deep thought.[1] In 2015, 46 percent of smartphone owners said they could not live without their smartphone.[2] Statistics like the latter one are shocking, but the suggestion that phones are compromising our ability to remain in a concentrated state of flow and think critically without distraction are disturbing. When most of us use our phones, we are bombarded with information from apps and advertisements that we cycle through quickly without fully concentrating on any one thing. This has the effect of overloading our working memory, hindering the formation of long-term memories and new connections.

 Tristan Harris, ex- Google Design Ethicist and cofounder of the Center for Humane Technology, has the goal of realigning technology with humanity’s interests.[3] Harris argues that smartphones work in the same way that slot machines do. Every time you pick up your phone, which for most people is on average 150 times a day, there is the chance you will have received a notification that will give you a rush of dopamine. In other words, smartphones are highly addictive.[4] In light of this worrying information, is the way we use our phones a conscious, active decision? Or do we automatically check our phones throughout the day without stopping to consider whether it is going to benefit our quality of life?

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 Since phones are often present in our thoughts, it makes sense that we would view them as central to our experience of modernity. In a past Rethinking circle discussion on Modernity and Reason, many people incorporated technology into their description of what it means to live in the modern era. Inevitably, from here we moved to discussing the positives and negatives of phone usage, and whether social media benefits our social interactions overall. Social media enables us to remain in contact and communicate with people all over the world, whilst simultaneously detracting our attention away from the people standing right in front of us and reducing our worth to the number of likes we receive. In our culture ‘phubbing’ – phone snubbing – is now a common occurrence.

 

In 2017 two studies were conducted by psychologists from the University of British Columbia and the University of Virginia on how phones impact face-to-face social interactions. The first study, which measured the correlation between level of happiness and phone usage when eating a meal out with friends and family, suggested that phone usage undermines the enjoyment people receive from real world social interactions because it causes distraction. The second study also suggested distraction from phone usage actually led to greater boredom and worse overall mood.[5] Excessive mobile phone usage has been shown to correlate with lower well-being, for example with depression and sleep problems. A study conducted at National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan in 2013 proves that compulsive mobile phone usage is similar to the compulsive behaviour seen in drug and alcohol addiction. It also suggests that excessive phone usage leads to stress, particularly when forced to be without your phone.[6]

 

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To deduce whether phone usage in our society has reached an all-consuming level, all you need to do is observe the people around you. You cannot go to a coffee shop, walk along the street, or sit on a train without being surrounded by people staring at their phone screens. It is becoming more commonplace to see young children playing games on their parents’ phones, rather than using their imagination to entertain themselves. As Catherine Price argues in her brilliant book, How To Break Up With Your Phone, it makes sense to actively revaluate and change the way we use our phones so that we can take advantage of all the useful functions, such as FaceTime, Google Maps and mobile banking, whilst limiting potentially harmful and time-wasting apps such as Instagram and Candy Crush. As Price so succinctly puts it – your life is what you are paying attention to.[7]




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Jessica Bennett

Contributing Writer

Jessica is in her second year at Exeter studying History. She is particularly interested in identities, art and the impact of modern technology and inventions on society.

 

Bibliography

 Center for Humane Technology, <http://humanetech.com/>

 Chang, Chun-Tuan, Zhao-Hong Cheng, Yu-Kang Lee, You Lin, ‘The dark side of smartphone usage: Psychological traits, compulsive behavior and technostress’, Computers in Human Behavior, 31 (2014), 373–383.

Dunna, Elizabeth W., Ryan J. Dwyer, Kostadin Kushlev, ‘Smartphone use undermines enjoyment of face-to-face social interactions’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 78 (2018), 233–239.

Harris, Tristan, ‘How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist’, Thrive Global (2016), < https://medium.com/thrive-global/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3/>

Price, Catherine, How To Break Up With Your Phone (London: Trapeze, 2018) 

Rotondi, Valentina, Luca Stanca and Miriam Tomasuolo, ‘Connecting alone: Smartphone use, quality of social interactions and well-being’ Journal of Economic Psychology, 63 (2017), 17–26.

 

 

 

[1] Catherine Price, How To Break Up With Your Phone (London: Trapeze, 2018), p. 63.

[2] Valentina Rotondi, Luca Stanca and Miriam Tomasuolo, ‘Connecting alone: Smartphone use, quality of social interactions and well-being’ Journal of Economic Psychology, 63 (2017), 17–26 (p. 25).

[3] Center for Humane Technology, <http://humanetech.com/>

[4] Harris, Tristan, ‘How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist’, Thrive Global (2016), < https://medium.com/thrive-global/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3/>

[5] Dunna, Elizabeth W., Ryan J. Dwyer, Kostadin Kushlev, ‘Smartphone use undermines enjoyment of face-to-face social interactions’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 78 (2018), 233–239 (p. 237).

[6] Chang, Chun-Tuan, Zhao-Hong Cheng, Yu-Kang Lee, You Lin, ‘The dark side of smartphone usage: Psychological traits, compulsive behavior and technostress’, Computers in Human Behavior, 31 (2014), 373–383.

[7] Price, How To Break Up With Your Phone, Copyright page.