With all the addictions in the world that threaten a person’s physical and mental well-being — thanks to technology, email, and social media — humanity must struggle with one more: smartphone addiction (aka cell phone addiction). So what exactly is the impact of smartphone addiction on society? Researcher Andrew Lepp and his colleagues at Kent State University surveyed the usual suspects, more than 500 undergraduate college students, to answer that very relevant question. The results of their study, published in December 2013, are disturbing for society as a whole and serve as a wake-up call for people who mistakenly believe that smartphones make their lives better or happier.
Lepp’s study found that frequent smartphone use was linked to increased anxiety, lower grades, and reduced happiness. Conversely, students who used their smartphones less, and could actually turn them off or set them aside for periods of time, experienced less anxiety, higher grades, and greater happiness. In an interview with The Daily Mail, Lepp stated the crux of the problem: “There is no ‘me’ time or solitude left in some of these students’ lives… [For example,] a few of the students we interviewed reported sending texts constantly throughout the day from morning to night, that in itself might be stressful… I think mental health requites a bit of personal alone time to reflect, look inward, process life’s events, and just recover from daily stressors.” In addition to a negative impact on mental health, addiction to smartphones has a very real negative physical impact. In an earlier study, Lepp and his colleagues identified a negative relationship between increased smartphone use and cardiorespiratory fitness.
Taken together, the studies clearly illustrate the paradox of a modern technological society: on the one hand, individuals routinely (perhaps even slavishly) use technology to stay connected with one another. On the other hand this same technology, which is supposed to improve the quality of life, is leading to the unraveling of the human psyche, manifested by increased anxiety and unhappiness that are self-imposed. The studies also indirectly reveal a disquieting truth about the large social media companies: they really aren’t interested in who you are and your welfare; rather, they are in business to increase revenues and shareholder value — at your expense. This happens very tacitly in modern culture: the companies promote and hook people with apps “they cannot live without,” encourages them to reveal a lot of personal information, and they take this very same information and use it to sell advertising. Corporations happily fill their coffers, while the consumer is left addicted to the smartphone, to the apps, and worst of all — as these studies prove — stressed out and unhappy. Who benefits the most? Therefore, to achieve or reclaim your physical and mental well-being, the message is crystal clear: put down your freaking smartphone periodically and spend some “me” time or interact with another person (face to face) — before that form of communication becomes extinct in our culture. Ponder this for a moment: for each of us, there will be a time when we shuffle off our mortal coil; how, then, will we be remembered? To paraphrase the immortal words of the perceptive poet, Maya Angelou: “People don’t always remember what you texted or tweeted, but they always remember how you made them feel.” [Insert smiley face. Press send]
For further reading: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563213003993