The Effect of Smartphones

Are you addicted to your phone?

There was once a time when computers with touchscreens and internet access were not in everyone’s pocket. That was about 20 years ago and now it is extremely rare for the average professional to not have an Iphone or Samsung brand smartphone. Now we are often told of all the benefits these devices bring to us but many are now starting to question these benefits and are also highlighting the negative changes the devices are bringing into the world. Indeed people such as Nicholas Carr believe we should be wary about the effect of convenient internet access has on our intelligence. As he explains in “Is google making us Stupid?”. Let us also examine this idea.

According to Pew Research Center “86% of those ages 18-29 have a smartphone, as do 83% of those ages 30-49” in the U.S. . That is a sizeable amount of the population. With such a large amount of the population being smartphone users we can assume that anything that affects smartphone users will effect the majority of the population as well. This in and of itself is alarming. For example when Samsung had to recall the Galaxy Note 7 on October 10 2016 because they had faulty batteries which had a defect which caused them to explode. Being that Samsung is a popular brand this news meant that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people could have potentially been walking around unaware that their new device was a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment. Of Course this is an extreme case that highlights one of the drawbacks from mass produced consumer goods. However it is important to note that because cellphones have become so necessary to perform in professional everyday life, harmful situations like this can have a huge effect on a large portion of the population. It is also important to note that while exploding phones makes for good headlines and the information of the recall is quickly disperse throughout society, more subtle underlying problems can go unnoticed to the population.

These problems include lowered attention span, internet addiction, and insomnia. We should examine these harmful effects.

According to Kevin McSpadden -“Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds.”

This is an alarming drop in attentiveness according to McSpadden. However he does go on to say that among younger generations the ability to multi-task has gone up with the increase use of our portable touch screens, but the downside to this is that it is presumed that the increase in multitasking ability comes from  a trade off where the brains are losing a bit of attention span in return for multitasking focus. In this case the technology is providing both a positive and a negative. Perhaps in a couple more decades we will have youth that can multitask like nobodies business but conversely have an attention span of 3 seconds.

Perhaps the key here is to have a better organization of activities in our daily lives. Such that when we lose attention from one thing there is another thing or activity presented right in front of us that we could focus on and work to accomplish. Surely the idea of this fast paced highly organized world would not bring any joy to the youth of today, but perhaps that is what is necessary and would give them fulfilment. Certainly today’s youth complains too much of being “bored” and having “nothing to do”, and it is an effect of the overstimulation that smartphones provide. It is in the best interests of society to look into these possibilities.

Connected to the attention span deficit epidemic is another problem that comes in part from the extensive use of smartphones in today’s world, and that is Internet addiction. Now internet addiction is not currently a codified psychological problem in the medical field but there is evidence of its existence. Such as Seungseob Lee who played an online game almost uninterrupted for 50 hours straight before dying of cardiac arrest.Another example is in  2009, Kim Sa-rang, a 3-month-old Korean child, died from malnutrition while both parents had been spending many hours in an internet cafe, rearing a virtual child in an online game, according to Andrew Salmon of Seoul CNN. These are two extreme cases but it makes us think that if this occurring in rare cases, then what is happening in other less extreme cases that might not make the news. Many deaths a year that attributed to heart disease or exhaustion or natural causes could be partly contributed from internet addiction. The two cases also prove that the inactivity and unhealthy habits of internet addicted individuals are detrimental to their health and the ones they care for.

Smartphones have now  allowed us to access the internet instantly anytime of day. With all the apps and websites that now exist there is so much information, so much media to absorb and it’s right at our fingertips. The problem of internet was so very present even in the pre-smartphone absorbed world of 2010, Dimitri A Christakis highlights all of these issues and their relative nuances in his article Internet addiction: a 21st century epidemic? , which was published by BMC Medicine September 8th 2010.  In it he explains that the criteria for addiction is that the individual is primarily preoccupied with the substance or action, wanting to reduce use but inability to do so, mood changes with use reduced use, the need for greater amounts of use, lying about usage, and most the most important signifier for addiction is the inability to maintain a job, healthy relationships, and/or education. It is apparent that internet addiction meets all of these criteria in many cases. Christakis believes that internet addiction should be getting the same serious attention as a disease as other similar addictions are receiving in today’s progressive world.

In fact in some ways internet addiction is more problematic than the usual addictive vices that plague our species,because its ability to go unnoticed. Gambling and drug use are somewhat restrained in our society because of legal consequences and social pretenses. Addiction to the web is also difficult to combat because the use of the internet is a necessity in our digital age. Many job descriptions can be summed up to working on a computer all day using the internet to keep the company profitable. Also to keep in touch socially with  your friends and family and coworkers you have to have your smartphone and use all the social media involved in that. Furthermore video games are a common part of everyday life for millions of people. All of these seemingly regular and healthy activities are somewhat encouraged in today’s culture, and it is fair to say some are heavily encouraged by peers to the point where shame is afflicted on those who do not participate. Also video games are explicitly designed to be addictive in nature. All of these factors together make for a society where those individuals with a predisposition for addiction almost surely find a vice in the many applications the internet and technology such as our smartphone have to offer.

Christakis concludes his article with , “There is no question that the field of internet addiction research is in its infancy and that the overall quality of existing data is fair to moderate at best, but that should not distract us or prevent us from taking what is an emerging problem seriously.”

To add to this, smartphones are a conduit for the internet and as such they have become the most popularly used conduit in an alarmingly short amount of time. This is why , in my opinion, smartphones have spawned a new addiction, the smartphone addiction. And in conclusion nothing should prevent us from taking action against this emerging health crisis epidemic.


Works Cited

Anderson, Monica. “Technology Device Ownership: 2015.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. N.p., 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Skamouni, and Josie Griffiths and Sara Kamouni. “Why Are Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Phones Exploding and How Do I Exchange My Phone for a Safer Model?” The Sun. The Sun, 13 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Christakis, Dimitri A. “Internet Addiction: A 21 St Century Epidemic?” BMC Medicine. BioMed Central, 18 Oct. 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Korea Reacts to Increase in Game Addiction Archived 20 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine. (GameSpot) 12 September 2005j

Salmon, Andrew (28 May 2009). “Jail for couple whose baby died while they raised online child”. Seoul: CNN. Retrieved 9 June 2010.