The smartphone is arguably the greatest invention since the wheel. I never cease to be impressed by how much one can do with this tiny handheld device. It’s a flashlight, a radio, a TV and a movie screen. A browser, a book, a Rolodex and a notepad. A camera, a newspaper, a GPS and a clock. It connects us to social media, performs job searches and monitors our health and our homes. It’s a photo editor, a level, a dictionary and a voice recorder. It’s a weather radio, a meal finder, a payment processor and a tape measure. It’s even a remote control, a shopping cart and a ride hailer. It’s an emergency beacon, a nooky finder, a language teacher and a calculator. It can unlock your car door and sound the alarm. For some people it even starts the car! It gives us our daily horoscopes, keeps us connected to our businesses and blogs, oh…and it’s a telephone, too. Someday, it will probably control our self-driving cars.
With any luck, it won’t be long until it cooks our meals and cleans up afterward.
With all that going for it, why would I want you to put your smartphone away and go back to the old flip phone?
I’ll give you 4 great reasons:
- Smartphones are a giant time suck
I don’t know about you, but I spend far too much time on my phone. I have a regular rotation of checking each of my social media accounts, then Zillow, then to the stock market app, then email where I find 27 new blog posts to read, then to see what’s fabulous on Kickstarter, then back to Facebook where I start the cycle all over again (you know, so I don’t miss something new). For me, this type of OCD-like compulsion was unprecedented in pre-smartphone days. I was healthy, active and extremely alert. You couldn’t get me to sit down for a-nee-thing, except maybe a good Tom Hanks movie. Now I spend all my free time staring into my palm. It’s really quite pathetic. And my butt is getting bigger.
I read an article stating people spend an average of 40 minutes a day on Facebook. I think it might be closer to 40 minutes in a sitting, twelve sittings in a day. (But maybe that’s just me.)
- Constant notifications
My phone has me on a dopamine drip. I don’t know about you, but I get a little bump of ecstasy every time my phone vibrates. Which is all the time. On the rare occasions it doesn’t beep or vibrate (like at 3:00 am), I check it to make sure it’s not dead. I swear I can hardly hold a conversation without checking it eighteen times. And on that, I know I’m not alone.
I’m pretty sure I’ve developed ADD, too.
It’s not just notifications that threaten to fracture my attention. It’s the constant barrage of ads and the persistent newsfeed, too. I switched to Netflix from cable to avoid commercials, but there they are right in the palm of my hand like a little bag of hot corn kernels popping up all over everything I want to see. When it’s not an ad, it’s a relentless rush of news pellets pelting my screen (and if you want to ensure you’re reading any kind of truth in these articles, you have to climb down that rabbit hole and sample a selection from every source to find the common denominators where a grain of truth may lie).
- They’re making us stupid
My high school English teacher once said I have “an excellent grasp of the English language.” Indeed I did, but no more. Thanks to my increasing reliance on Google, I can no longer structure a coherent sentence on my own or play Boggle or Scrabble with any sense of dignity. My most frequent input is: “synonym for ____.” I have no incentive to memorize the answer because when I forget it, I can just Google it again.
Forget spelling, too. Autocorrect and autofill have ripped that ability right from my executive center. Memorization of any kind, really, has taken leave. Phone numbers, last names and addresses – all gone. (Why do phones alphabetize contacts by first name, anyway?) I used to have dozens of contact numbers memorized back when I had to rotary dial each digit. Now, I don’t even remember my own phone number for the first six months I have it.
Even following the thread of a text conversation has lessened in priority amid all the distractions. I can always scroll up if I need to get back on track, right? In text, my conversation partner is none the wiser, whereas in person she’d think I was a first rate idiot.
- It’s compromising our health
Headaches. Eye strain. Probably some sort of radiation poisoning.
Depression? From a phone? Yes! A recent study by the University of Illinois linked heavy cell phone use to both anxiety and depression. Frankly, I don’t think technology is causing the problem, though. I think it’s our interactions with other people. Specifically, the lack of interaction in the moments we think we need it. Because we have the phones in our hands – the world at our fingertips, so to speak – we sometimes crave an immediate reaction when we reach out online. Obviously, that’s not a reasonable expectation since other people are busy living their lives and whatnot, but it doesn’t stop us from longing for a little affirmation from others in the exact moment we’re mentally crying out. Delayed gratification be damned. When we don’t get it, it hurts.
As amazing as this smartphone contraption thingy is, it works too hard to dictate our time, rob us of our freedom and hold us in rapture. I, for one, think it’s time to lift my head, reengage my brain and rejoin the natural world. I suspect I’ll be in the minority out there, but in the interest of my long-term health, ditching the smartphone and finding satisfaction in face-to-face interactions with real people may just be the smartest thing to do.