The headline in the Globe and Mail read, “Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy. So why can’t you put it down?” by Eric Andrew-Gee.
As I began to read the article I became alarmed by the research quoted.
Internet companies have spent “billions of dollars” trying o figure out how to hook people into their programs. They have come up with strategies which access the same neural pathways as those affecting gambling and drug usage.
The natural drug that interests the internet industry is a “feel good” one by the of Dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter which is released when the brain “expects a reward or accrues fresh knowledge.” A human vulnerability is being exploited by the internet industry and we are the victims.
Ex-employees of Google, Facebook and Apple have become alarmed by the technology they helped to develop and are now sounding the warning bells we need to hear. One of these past employees was quoted as saying “The short-terms, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave.”
Professor John Ratey (Harvard Medical School), an expert on attention-deficit disorder, is quoted as saying “We are not developing the attention muscles in our brain nearly as much as we used to.” He went on to say that the symptoms of people with smartphones and those with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) are “absolutely the same.”
Research into attention span is sobering. In 2000 the average human attention span was 12 seconds. In 2013 another study found that this time had shrunk to 8 seconds. If the investigation were to be done today, five years later, it is estimated that there would be further decrease. Here is food for thought: the average attention span of a “goldfish” is 8.5 seconds!
Parents need to be particularly cautious with their smartphone usage, as the quality of their relationships with the children is being compromised.
When a mother nurses her baby (or holds a bottle for the little one), there is an opportunity for eye to eye contact with the child; this contributes to the bond between parent and child. It has been determined that, through this interaction, the brain waves of the baby and the mother will synchronize.
Mothers who are distracted with their devices are missing precious moments of bonding with their newborn and only time will tell the impact of this distraction.
Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist, interviewed 1000 children between the ages of 4 and 18. She used the data she collected to write a book entitled “The Big Disconnect” in which she stated that kids said they no longer run to the door to greet their parents because adults are so often on their phones when they arrive home.
Andrew-Gee in his article added “And it gets worse once they’re through the door. One of the smartphone’s terrible mysterious powers from a child’s perspective, is its ability ‘to pull you way instantly, anywhere, anytime.’ (quoting Stiener-Adair).”
“To children, the feeling is often one of endless frustration fatigue and loss.”
Other research findings indicate that “family time” has dropped one third between 2006 and 2011 from 26 hours a month to 18 hours. It was also determined that children are more at risk today due to distracted parents with a 12% increase in injuries for children under five from 2007 and 2010.
Even when families gather, there is no guarantee of healthy interpersonal interactions. A friend recently relayed a situation he observed wile out for dinner with his wife. A mixed generation family arrived and sat at a table nearby. He observed them from time to time and noticed: “They sat around the table and were all engrossed in their phones or tablets for the entire time they were in the eatery.”
I recall dropping into a coffee shop one morning and observing a father with his two kids having a visit together. The kids were quietly drinking their hot chocolate while their father was busy paying attention to his cell phone.
On another occasion, a couple of old friends and I were having lunch in a pub a couple sat down nearby. Once seated there was minimal conversation before the guy pulled out his phone to check messages while his table-mate sat looking bored, more or less twiddling her thumbs.
After a bit, the woman brought out her phone and began to scroll through while the fellow put his away and sat looking bored. He then took his phone back out and they spent the bulk of their time physically present but mentally miles away. An opportunity for some good relationship enhancing interaction was compromised drastically. (And of course I was distracted by what was happening!)
TD Bank is on the right track with a poster it has created for it’s downtown centre in Toronto: “Disconnect to Connect. Put your phone down and be present.”