Cellphones are Killing Us Softly

Darah Martin

Most of us have our phone in our hands 24 hours a day — it lays next to our heads at night. It’s the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we look at before they go to sleep. We humans are addicted to our new extensions, the ubiquitous cellphone!

It follows us to the bathroom and it has a place at the dinner table. Something we’ve always kept so close to us… but now, more than ever, we need to distance ourselves from.

Why wouldn’t we keep them within reach?  They can do so much. They can snap a memory on the spot; you can watch a movie on the go; find instant travel information; talk to whoever you want to; and keep up to date on what the rest of the world is doing.

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New research from the University of Austin Texas, has found that our memory capacity, ability to process data, and general intelligence improves significantly when our cell phones are completely out of sight. Even having it next to you face down can still dull your cognitive senses.

Nomophobia is a term describing an irrational fear of being without your mobile form or being unable to use your device for some reason. Smartphones have become a crutch for many to help navigate through people’s daily lives. This dependency on technology has important psychological consequences.

Research on trans active memory finds that when we have reliable sources of information about particular topics at our disposal, this reduces our motivation and ability to acquire and retain knowledge about that particular topic. In other words, how will we train ourselves to retain knowledge when we can just ask Siri?

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Researchers at Iowa State University designed and validated a questionnaire called the Nomophobia Questionnaire or NMP-Q. The questions were developed first by interviewing undergraduates and asking them about their feelings and thoughts regarding their devices. Questions like: “ How would you feel if you left your smartphone at home and had to spend your day without it?” The researchers developed content based off the answers they recorded in these interviews.

This process asked participants to specify how they would feel if they lost their devices with statements like “I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.”

Participants in a separate study then responded to these items on 1-7 scales ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The researchers calculated scores by summing up responses to each item and then categorizing the total score as either “mild nomophobia” (scores of 21-59), “moderate nomophobia” (scores of 66-99), or “severe nomophobia” (scores greater than 100).

This data allowed researchers to identify four major components of nomophobia. Not being able to communicate with people, not being able to access information, giving up on convenience and losing connections in general. This study is only one example of the multiple psychological impacts that our cell phones have on us.

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Many addictions in this world can lead us to an early demise without us knowing it. It is well known that people can become addicted to things such as narcotics and alcohol. What makes a person addicted or dependant upon something?  Since drugs physically change the brain’s structure, addiction is considered a “brain disease.” But your phone can have that same affect.

It is quite possible for people to become addicted to behavior. Some cell phone users show the same symptoms that a drug addict might have. Certain people use smartphones to lift their moods. And it may take more and more time on those phones to provide the same level of enjoyment.

How many times have you told someone or been the one told to put away the phone at the dinner table?  Multiple times. Too much phone use can interfere with normal activities and cause conflicts with family and other people. And even so people can still not cut back how much time they spend on their phones.

A new study in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, asked college students how much time they spent on different phone activities and applications. It also asked them how much they agreed or disagreed with statements suggesting possible addiction. “I spend more time than I should on my cell phone,” said one statement. The more calls someone made, the more likely they were to show signs of addiction.

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Women were more likely to show signs of addiction if they often used Pinterest, Instagram, Amazon or apps that let them use their phones like an iPod. Apps for the Bible, Twitter, Pandora and Spotify showed an inverse correlation. Heavy use of those apps was linked to a lower risk of phone addiction.

This study leads us to believe that men use cell phones more for technology and entertainment while women use technology more for maintaining social relationships. On average women used their phones longer than men did.

Of course the recurrent use of something does not mean you are addicted, but the overuse of a cell phone does share similar traits with addiction and that is not to be ignored. Ask yourself some questions. What is the harm in limiting the use of electronic devices? Very little. What is the harm in doing nothing, if a lot of time on devices might be behind regression of your social skills, relationships, and general intelligence? Too much, put down the phone. At least for a little while.






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