Would you give your kids heroin? Then why a smartphone?

February 8, 2018

Smartphone addiction, colloquially known as nomophobia (“NO MObile PHOne phoBIA” – fear of being without a mobile phone or being unable to use it), is fuelled by Internet overuse or an Internet addiction disorder and the problem is on the rise.  The problem is so bad that it’s now known as “digital heroin.” There is still a great deal of research taking place on this particular subject and some studies that have found that areas of the brain that are typically highlighted and stimulated during drug use are also being stimulated during overuse of the smartphone.

I was an early adopter of the Blackberry over 10 years ago. Before the iPhone and Android phones become popular, the Blackberry was king of mobile email and internet. Back then everyone referred to the Blackberry as the Crackberry because anyone that had, one was constantly on it.  But take a look around now; everyone is constantly on their smartphones.

Don’t get me wrong. I recognise that smartphones, tablets or computers are hugely productive tools but the compulsive use of these devices interferes with daily life, work and relationships to the extent that people are actually becoming less productive.

For young people, one of the biggest problems is the fear of missing out (FOMO).  They see their peers doing exciting things and feel they are missing out, or worse, they feel concerned and anxious as to why they weren’t invited.

There’s also a continuous peal of notifications from email, text messaging, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, etc which acts to constantly distract and draw them back to their phone.

This constant smartphone usage is not good for the developing brain.   Many studies are taking place around various associated medical conditions that range from depression to OCD and even suicide.  A study in the US by Jean Twenge in 2017 found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide.

Not surprisingly, since the introduction of the iPhone/Smartphone, there’s been a 33% increase in children feeling left out and lonely.

This is primarily driven by the fact that teenagers are isolating themselves more and consider virtual meetings the norm. They are growing up only knowing how to communicate with others via a smartphone and have not learned the proper way to hold a conversation with someone.  This leads to missing the non-verbal commination element of human interaction – which constitutes to the majority of communication – and thus removes much of their ability to understand a social situation as they are operating without the benefit of these indicators such as minor facial adjustments, stance, tone of voice, etc.

Some effort has been made to overcome this with emojis (pictorial representations of emotion) but it’s nowhere near enough to bridge the gap when using social media.  This is why comments on social media are often take out of context.

Smartphone addiction also leads to greater memory loss. The “Google Effect” means we no longer bother to remember information because we don’t need to.  And short-term memory is also affected because, teens especially, switch rapidly from one app to another, holding various streams of activity on each which doesn’t give the brain enough time to slowdown and process all this information so much of it gets either forgotten or confused/crosswired.

The situation isn’t helped by companies like Facebook who have just introduced a messenger app aimed at kids under 13.  At present, your child can’t use Facebook until the age of 13 but this app is designed to tap into Facebook’s addictive algorithms and get them hooked.

The Good News

There seems to be greater recognition of this major issue. A group of tech experts, who used to work at companies like Facebook and Google, have founded an organization to raise awareness about what they believe are the negative effects of social media and technology on society. The Centre for Humane Technology have started a campaign called “The Truth About Tech” and are especially worried about the effects of unchecked tech use and social media on children.

In the US, over 600 schools have solved the smartphone addition epidemic by using a product called Yondr. This product came out of the founder witnessing people filming a drunk guy at a festival and posting it to YouTube.  This intrusive behaviour is common in schools so this pouch was designed to combat and control smartphone usage. Now, people entering a school, courtroom, concert, medical facility, wedding or other event are asked to slip their phones into these Neoprene pouches which are then locked. The pouch stays with the owner until people are ready to leave the premises and the devices are released.

San Lorenzo High School in California required students to “Yondr” their phones for the day and the difference was amazing. Discipline problems have plummeted with referrals for defiance and disrespect down by 82 percent as most arguments stemmed from disagreements between students and teachers over phone use in class.

It’s somewhat ironic that many tech leaders at these social media companies do not allow their children to own such devices. Even the man who invented the Facebook “Like” button has removed the app from his mobile phone over fears the psychological effects apps are having on people around the world.