Has Your Smartphone Replaced Your Brain?

America is experiencing information overload more than ever before and it looks like it’ll only increase. With increased knowledge comes increased responsibility. Technology has boomed over the centuries but we’re not here to say that technology itself is a bad thing. You may have even been able to access this article through your phone, or through a shared link. Technology is very helpful and benefits our lives. It is a part of our jobs, social network, emergencies, finding useful information.

But, and this is a big but – Just as we can become addicted to alcohol, drugs, and other things, we can become addicted to our screens. Has your phone replaced your brain? 

The concern now lies in how integrated our smartphones have become in our lives. We now rely on our phones for basic human functions. Do you find yourself not able to recall how to navigate to destinations without using a GPS system in your phone? I’m reminded me of the times when I’d have to pull out my folding map, squint, and call out directions using the map. Relying on landmarks was necessary, and “paved” the way for us to remember how to get around. Now, our reliance on smartphones have discouraged our ability to reason and analyze and have instead increased our desire for instant gratification. Now, we’re hardly able to cope without our phones in our hands.

Are you addicted?

Addiction works on dopamine levels. It’s what causes us to seek out pleasurable experiences, and it encourages us to keep seeking pleasure once we receive the “reward”. And so we find ourselves in a cycle of seek-and-reward. This cycle is common in our daily lives and is an important function of nature, such as the basic necessities of life and companionship. But what about in the case of smartphones?

The reason why it’s easier to become addicted to technology than it is to other things is because we never truly become “full” as we do when we eat a meal. This causes less satisfaction, and our desire to seek out more becomes stronger.

Of course, none of us like to think we’re addicted to our phones. We reason that we need our smartphone because we this e-mail, that text, or that viral video is important. That is true some of the time, but there are a few tell-tale signs of when we are in control of our phone use, and when it is in control of us.

Cell phone addictions involve:

  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia caused by heavy phone usage
  • Reliance on the phone to experience satisfaction and relaxation
  • Feelings of anxiety or irritability when separated from the phone or when faced by the inability to use it (for example, when you realize your phone is low on battery)
  • Feelings of loneliness or swift mood changes when you’re unable to send messages or receive immediate responses
  • Continued and conscious phone use in dangerous situations, such as while driving, and loss of interest in other activities
  • Preference of using the phone instead of personal interaction

Do You Remember the Phone Number?

Do you remember the times when it was necessary to dial phone numbers on a landline? The actual phone number had to be memorized, versus finding the number in our contact list as we do now.

This information overload that plagues us makes it difficult for us to form long-term memories. The reason for this is because information enters our brain so rapidly that we are unable to filter out what’s important and what isn’t. As a result, it doesn’t get stored into long-term memory. Long-term memories are what shape our thoughts and experiences.

The bottom line is this: The more we rely heavily on smartphones and technology, the less information we’ll be able to store in our long-term memory, making us less capable of shaping our thoughts and experiences. Memory externalization isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but it shouldn’t replace our ability to learn and remember from external experiences and our surroundings.

Attention Span as Short as Your Goldfish

Have you ever had pet goldfish? I did and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t keep my goldfish’s attention. Now I wonder if my attention span is dwindling to that of a goldfish.

Did you know that even the mere presence of a smartphone—regardless of whether it’s on silent or turned off—impairs cognitive function? This is because the brain was actively working to not pick up the smartphone and start using it. When we’re not using our phones, we feel as though we are missing out on something that’s just been posted to social media or a news article that everyone is talking about.

More Connected, But More Alone

Socializing in-person and online is different. With our online presence, we choose the best versions of ourselves along with the best online qualities—hashtags, statuses, stories, filters—you name it. We’re unable to see the quirks, imperfections, and vulnerabilities that truly connect us to one another. We often idolize those who seem to have “perfect” lives and it causes us to feelings of inadequacy, low-self esteem, and feelings of loneliness. A study found that 48% of young people under the age of thirty-five felt like they could only confide in one person, versus three confidants, based on a study conducted twenty-five years ago. It’s rather ironic, as we have more “friends” than we can count on our online accounts – hundreds, if not thousands – and yet we’re lonelier than ever.

How Do We Unplug?

  • Here are some ways that have worked for me personally, when managing phone and technology usage:
  • Go on a digital fast for a day to remind yourself of life beyond your phone
  • Turn off notifications during family events or other outings, work, classes, etc. I also like to turn off app notifications on the weekends, except for calls and text messages.
  • Schedule consistent “dates” with your loved ones
  • Form social networks that you can interact with in real life, like a church group or hiking club
  • Go on an outdoor adventure: camping, road trips, hiking in nature
  • If you use technology for work, make an effort to schedule the times you use it. For example, set aside some time to check your e-mail instead of compulsively checking it throughout the day
  • Use an alarm app that requires you to get up in order to turn it off. For example, leaving the phone downstairs or in another room. This will discourage using the phone before bedtime.

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Grace Jauwena

Grace Jauwena is a health coach that focuses on plant-based nutrition and natural remedies. She strives to help others thrive holistically, and is pursuing a doctorate degree in natural medicine. She loves to cook, create recipes, style food, and take photos. In her free time, she explores new foods, hiking trails, and beaches with her husband, and spends time with family and friends.

  1. For more than a decade I did not have a cell phone. Having bought in to it in the 90s, I quickly realized that I was paying a high premium for a phone I never used. By 2014 my friends, family, coworkers were nagging me to get a phone, for emergency or occasional use. Not finding a simple flip phone, with a few functions, I ended up getting a simple smart phone. BAD move. It was a leaning curve, I could not handle. Fortunately being like a bar of soap it slipped out of my pocket when I was on a tall ladder and the scree shattered. The flip phone replacement is annoying enough, as it tries to be a smart phone, with many unnecessary functions. My real gripe has to to do with everyone at my work place, who are 100% addicted. The amount of time they spend fondling their phone makes every job take more time and thus less profitable. not to mention the amount of time they have to reorient themselves to their work task. Its is no different than those who still smoke, and are paid for their many 15 minute smoke breaks. WHAT ARE THEY ALL LOOK AT ON THOSE PHONES????????

  2. Please provide any scientific studies that discuss the physical addiction aspects of hand held device dopamine or other addictions. I believe this device is ushering an electronic holocaust that has and will continue to handicap our youth.

  3. Thank you Grace for this crucial article in a media craze world we live in.

    It is a complete irony that we buy these smartphones thinking it is going to add value to our lives but in actual fact it creates, loneliness through isolation, reflectors and not thinkers, addicts and not enthusiasts.

    Technology is great when it doesn’t eat away our brains!!!!

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