It’s impossible to dismiss the many advantages that technology has given us. With the ability to do anything from making travel reservations to research just about anything, the internet has certainly provided us with tools that make life easier.
But at what cost?
In his article, “Your Smartphone is Making You Stupid, Antisocial, and Unhealthy,” author Eric Andrew-Gee discussing some alarming statistics that many of us don’t realize are there.
We all realize that our lives are inundated with technology to some degree or other. Even if you don’t own a smartphone, chances are you are still somehow plugged into the enormous world wide web in some way. Maybe through work, maybe through your kids.
We also want to believe that we are in control of our lives and this includes our activities online and with our smartphones.
But that’s what they want you to believe.
And who are “they”?
Tristan Harris is a vocal opponent who – through a non-profit organization called “Time Well Spent” – informs and warns people about the dangerous dark underbelly of technology and how persuasive technology is manipulating billions of people every day through online use (view his powerful TED talk, here).
What is Persuasive Technology?
Maybe you jumped on your iPad to look up a recipe and – lo and behold – you find an update about the next episode of your favorite Netflix series. This is a glimpse of persuasive technology. Stanford University has an alarming headline for their Persuasive Technology Lab: “Machines Designed to Control Humans.”
Persuasive Technology is the use of information and statistics to control the things people see when they are browsing the internet or using their smartphones, in order to keep their attention.
You may feel the urge to roll your eyes at this one but there are billions of dollars, decades of experience, and a slew of scientific data that are warnings that you, indeed, are losing some very valuable personal traits each time you unlock your smartphone.
And it’s a deliberate and measured insidious attempt to get your attention and – if you have kids with smartphones – theirs, too.
How Does It Hurt Us?
There is no short, simple answer for this question because technology evolves so quickly that the ways it harms us now, may or may not change in the near future and future technologies may or may not pose different types of threats.
Some effects of smartphone use are simple to follow:
There are some specific ways that science has shown how harmful technology can be to our mental health and overall well-being.
People who use their smartphones to perform work-related tasks, often have difficulty separating their work life from their home life.
Further, the National Sleep Foundation reports that “71 percent of people sleep either holding their smartphone, having it in bed with them, or having it on their nightstand.” For this reason, 43 percent of teens are sleeping less than seven hours per night.
The effects of lack of sleep are far-reaching and impact mental health and psychological well-being, as well as performance.
The use of smartphones has been shown to reduce cognitive capacity according to a study by the University of Texas, Austin. Other ways our brains are being affected might seem benign but consider, the use of auto-correct, for example, means our youth are not exercising the parts of their brains that learn to spell and put words together as much as we used to.
Since the brain is a muscle, it needs to be “worked out” the same as any muscle and, if it’s not, it becomes weak.
Or maybe today’s Millennials will never have to go through the pain of having to fold a map back properly, but they’re also not utilizing the logic parts of their brains to read a map, choosing, instead, to use the navigation app on their phones.
Facebook was built to connect people together who otherwise may not see each other for years or even, ever. While the idea of social media is a good (and lucrative) one, there are obvious ways that using social media has depleted the social connections that were once a part of every-day life.
If you’ve ever sent a text message that was intended to be funny but was not received as such, then you can see the importance of things like body language and facial expressions.
Today’s teens spend eight or more hours per day looking at their smartphones. While it may sound great to have a device that can do everything for you, the reality is that we are human beings and there are many things our minds and bodies are not getting each day now because of smartphone use.
How to prevent Digital Distraction?
- Turn it off: This is an obvious choice but not always an easy one. If your phone is turned off, you won’t be tempted to check it.
- Be Mindful of Your Use: If you use your smartphone for a particular task, stick to that task and, once completed, put the phone back down.
- Limit Phone Use for Teens: According to the Child Mind Institute, children should be limited age-appropriately from too much exposure to all media.
- Create Alternative Activities: When our faces are glued to a screen, we are not paying attention to those around us. Take the time to do an outing or hobby either alone or with your family.
- Eliminate Phones During Family Time: Whether eating a meal or watching a movie, be clear that phones are not allowed at the dinner table or when you’re doing a family activity.
- Remove Time-Consuming Apps: If you find that certain apps are consuming more of your time than they should, remove these apps so you’ll be less tempted by them.
The Center for Humane Technology suggests technological design must be the first step. Their organization is challenging technology companies, the government, and individuals to not only be informed and educated about this phenomenon but also to push for changes in the ways that tech companies design their products.
Until these changes begin to happen, we consumers have to be responsible for the ways that we allow technology to affect our own and our families lives. One easy way that parents can help to instill balance in the lives of their children and teens is by using a trustworthy parental control service that will allow you to manage screen time, block inappropriate content, and to block and unblock time-consuming apps. As parents, we must make a difference in the online lives of our children and the amount of time that they are staring at screens. Start today, and set an example with your own screen use and make it a priority to communicate often with your children the importance of finding balance with technology in their lives.