I recently saw a meme on Facebook that made me think. It was titled “The Real Zombie Apocalypse.” The left side of the picture featured a gory image of zombies grasping for the camera (or cameraman). On the right, a group of young adults were seated around a restaurant table. Rather than engaging each other, they were hunched over with their eyes glued to their phones. (Perhaps they were texting each other?)

Whether you find it comical or dismaying, the underlying issue cannot be ignored. Technology is changing the way we interact with others. Which of us hasn’t experienced an awkward lunch where the person across from you is constantly texting, answering emails, or taking calls?

Although technology has benefited our lives in countless ways, it has some negatives as well. Internet and smartphone addiction has become a big problem around the world. Has spending every waking hour connected to the web and our various networks of ‘friends’ caused us to lose touch with reality?

Anxiety, happiness, and productivity.

The constant alerts and notifications on our smartphones serve an important purpose. They are meant to simplify life and make us more productive. In the same way, social networks are meant to improve our relationships by helping us stay connected to the people around us. However, studies are showing that theses things also stress us out. The stress comes from the constant pressure we feel to respond or stay connected to the various messages we are receiving.

For example, a study conducted at Kent State University in Ohio found a strong relationship between high cellphone use and anxiety.[1] Many of the students studied reported feeling glued to their phones and unable to control their use. In addition to anxiety, the students who were unable to resist calls and notifications were found to be less happy than their counterparts. These students also received poorer grades than students who were less ‘connected’.

One researcher, Andrew Lepp, lamented the lack of solitude in today’s world. He stated, “Mental health requires a bit of personal alone time to reflect, look inward, process life’s events, and just recover from daily stressors.”[2]

Technology and Children

If technology is having an effect on ‘responsible’ adults, it should not surprise us that children are being affected as well. The average American child is now spending 7 hours a day using some form of entertainment technology. Pediatricians and researchers in the field have grown increasingly concerned about this phenomenon. Experts caution that access to technology has been linked to a host of issues in adolescents including: smartphone addiction, cyber-bullying, lack of exercise, lack or sleep, and access to violent or pornographic media.[3]

South Korea is one nation facing a particularly tough battle. Currently, about 70% of adults and children in South Korea own smartphones—that’s the highest percentage of smartphone users in the world.[4] The government now estimates that 1 in 5 children are addicted to their phones. Researchers note that even preschool aged children have begun to show signs of technology addiction and obsession.

To deal with these problems, the South Korean government is now requiring schools to teach special classes about the dangers of internet addiction. Some parents are even sending their children to ‘boot camps’ to help them break their addictions.

Kwon Jang-Hee, the leader of a Korean organization campaigning against technology addiction, cautions that parental awareness needs so start early. The majority of parents are simply ignorant of the dangers smartphones and tablets may pose. Although it is quite common, Kwon claims that smart devices should not be used to pacify babies or young children. He also recommends parents postpone purchasing a smart devices for their children for as long a possible.[5] 

Fixing the Problem

On the other side of the Pacific, experts are also issuing stern warnings about technology and its effects on children. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that teenagers’ “screen time” (access to media) be limited to 2 hours at most.[6] They also recommended banning televisions and computers from kids’ bedrooms.

So what’s the likelihood of limiting a kid’s media intake if you don’t limit your own consumption? It’s not very good, right? Your child is not likely to read a book or play with Legos if your eyes are still glued to your tablet. We need to lead by example and be the first ones to unplug. When we sense the children in our lives are becoming too distracted by media, we need to find creative ways to engage them. Children learn from example. I believe my love for books was fostered through my father and grandfather who I constantly saw reading.

There are many things a family can do to spend time together. Go do something outside, play a game, study something together, chat about your daily experiences, or get your kids involved in the kitchen. Chances are, your kids will welcome the attention. Real ‘families’ need to spend time together.

The Benefits

As we mentioned earlier, powering down your computers and smart devices (or simply logging out of Facebook) has the potential to reduce your anxiety, boost your productivity, and even make you happier. Besides this, research has also shown that cellphones can disturb your sleep. In addition to shooting melatonin-reducing artificial light into your eyes, the wireless signals coming from your phone are harmful.

One study—which was actually funded by major cellphone companies—found that people exposed to mobile radiation, “Were found to experience headaches, change of moods, confusion, and trouble in sleeping.”[7] Sleeping with your phone in another room is one way to combat these health effects and deal with distractions.

Another benefit of powering down more often is the increased time you’ll have. We tend to view smart devices as productivity increasers, but often they do the opposite. Due to the seemingly endless stream of emails, notifications and texts, our devices have the potential to constantly distract us from the tasks on hand. I recently deleted the entire games folder on my iPhone. I found the 10 minutes here and there quickly added up to hours of fruitless, mindless activity.

But I’ll Be so Bored!

It seems like people have an irrational fear of “down-time,” assuming that it will quickly lead to laborious boredom. Why do we always feel the need to be doing something? People pull their phones out the moment they have a few minutes to spare. This is not a healthy trend.

Quietness and time for reflection is very important. This time helps people recover from stress and process life’s events. By taking breaks from technology and other forms of excitement, we allow our minds to think more clearly, help us understand big concepts, solve problems, and increase our productivity. We may even gain a better understanding of the world or our place in it. Surely, this is more important than browsing Facebook, sending mindless texts, or passing the next level of your favorite game.

So make a deal with yourself to put your smartphone away once in a while. Leave it on the countertop when you get home and don’t check it until morning. What’s the worst that could happen? You may be a little bored and less connected, but hey! You may end up more creative, better rested, and less stressed than before. In addition, you’ll be more likely to engage your friend at lunch—and if we’re not able to set technology aside and enjoy our friendships, perhaps we really will turn into zombies.

 

[1] Lepp, Andrew, Jacob E. Barkley, and Aryn C. Karpinski. “The Relationship Between Cell Phone Use, Academic Performance, Anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in College Students.” Computers in Human Behavior 31 (February 2014): 343–350. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.10.049.

[2] Lepp, Andrew, Jacob E. Barkley, and Aryn C. Karpinski. “The Relationship Between Cell Phone Use, Academic Performance, Anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in College Students.” Computers in Human Behavior 31 (February 2014): 343–350. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.10.049.

[3] NEWS, Rheana Murray / NEW YORK DAILY. “Parents Should Limit Kids’ Screen Time to 2 Hours a Day: American Academy of Pediatrics.” NY Daily News. Accessed December 31, 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/40-babies-tablets-smartphones-article-1.1498983.

[4] Relaxnews, Afp. “Ultra-wired South Korea Battles Smartphone Addiction.” NY Daily News. Accessed December 31, 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/south-korea-battles-smartphone-addiction-article-1.1387062.

[5] Relaxnews, Afp. “Ultra-wired South Korea Battles Smartphone Addiction.” NY Daily News. Accessed December 31, 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/south-korea-battles-smartphone-addiction-article-1.1387062.

[6] NEWS, Rheana Murray / NEW YORK DAILY. “Parents Should Limit Kids’ Screen Time to 2 Hours a Day: American Academy of Pediatrics.” NY Daily News. Accessed December 31, 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/40-babies-tablets-smartphones-article-1.1498983.

[7] Arnetz, Bengt B, Torbjorn Akerstedt, Lena Hillert, Arne Lowden, N. Kuster, and Clairy Wiholm. “The Effects of 884 MHz GSM Wireless Communication Signals on Self-reported Symptom and Sleep (EEG)- An Experimental Provocation Study.” PIERS Online 3, no. 7 (2007): 1148–1150. doi:10.2529/PIERS060907172142.


About the Author

Jonathan Ewald

“If man thinks about his physical or moral state he usually discovers that he is ill.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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