Dr Jean Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, has published research showing that technology is negatively affecting our children's minds and bodies. Smartphones, it transpires, are turning us into tech-addicted zombies, oblivious to the world around us. The effects on adults are pronounced, and on children even more so.
My recent article on social media featured a scathing attack on Facebook by one of the company's former CEOs. Today, we shift the focus to another type of technology that we have become so reliant on - smartphones. Some would argue that we have become more than dependant on them; we have become addicted. Fox News' Steven Hilton recently observed,
"It’s the smartphone that is responsible for one of the most depressing – and increasingly ubiquitous – sights of the modern age: a family sitting together but totally detached from one another, engaged with their screens rather than the people closest to them."
Meanwhile, Dr Twenge posits that the use of smartphones is changing childhood in fundamental and deeply negative ways. You’ve more than likely witnessed men, women and, of course, children numbly sitting or walking with their gaze fixed on a smartphone.
Sometimes while walking on the sidewalk, I have to cough to awaken an approaching “zombie-walker” coming from the opposite direction, lest we crash. I toy with the idea of carrying a bell or a bicycle horn to alert them to my presence. Then there are drivers who are distracted by the ever-present device, either while driving alone or with a carful of kids.
Let's assume, for the moment, that none of the above-mentioned individuals gets killed as a result of their being so preoccupied with their gadgets. The perils of smartphone abuse still wreak havoc on the living, and are a detriment to those around them.
The concern is mushrooming as the technology grows. Just having a smartphone nearby is enough to severely limit the ability of its owner to fully focus on an alternate task at hand. It may even lower one’s IQ - a recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity, even when the devices are turned off. The study opines,
“… the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance.”
Hilton, viewing the smartphone abuse problem as harmfully addictive and ultimately as damaging as tobacco, laid out some potential remedies for the crisis. He proposes:
Ban Smartphones for Kids
To enable parent contact with the child and vice versa, the phone would have the necessary contact capabilities but not internet access.
Mandate Warnings on Devices
Require all smartphone makers to show regular mental health warnings prominently on screens after a certain amount of usage.
Restrict Smartphone Use in Public Spaces
This may help save pedestrians' lives as they no longer meander unconsciously into intersections, ready to be mown down by motorists or cyclists.
Tax Phone Usage
Though seemingly Draconian, this might be the fastest way to get parents to react to not only their own smartphone abuse but that of their children. The proceeds from the tax program would go to fund mental health programs focusing on technological addictions, awareness programs, and the like.
Many companies now make smartphones, following in the footsteps of the original iPhone. Hilton concludes,
“Apple’s Steve Jobs, idolized by so many as a hero, probably did more to undermine humanity than any other business leader in history.”
Wittingly or unwittingly, Jobs may have created the “new smoking” mental health hazard with the iPhone, along with Silicon Valley’s stated goal of getting everyone’s attention and holding it. Smartphones are expensive but the epidemic of listlessness and worse that threatens society is even more costly.
Opinions are the writer's own.
Image credit: By bulentevren/Shutterstock.com