26 October 2017
Mobile Tech: Cellular Stranger Danger
It’s probably safe to say that most people can be accused of, more often than not, peering down towards their mobile phones fairly often throughout the day; to check for emails or status updates or simply, just pass the time. It would be an unusual sight to be practically anywhere, and not see someone looking down toward a mobile device. Not surprisingly, “[t]he average American spends nearly half a day staring at a screen;” nearly eleven hours each day is spent consuming media; astonishingly, this number was calculated on media usage only and didn’t include time spent texting or taking pictures (Howard). Perhaps one could admit, through the constant use of mobile devices, complacency is becoming the new norm. Personal contact, good listening skills and our physical/mental health are all affected by the incessant need to stay updated and connected.
In the 1800’s, a railroad construction worker by the name of Phineas Gage, permanently damaged the left half of his brain, the frontal lobe, when a large iron rod pierced through his cheek and out of his skull: “Gage not only survived the incident but also apparently never fully lost consciousness” (Guidotti). Before the accident he was known as being “reliable, systematic, and hardworking;” after the incident and the damage to his frontal lobe, Gage became “impulsive” and neurotic in his behavior (Guidotti). At the time, physicians didn’t realize that the frontal lobe is the area of the brain that is “responsible for decoding and comprehending social interactions;” it is through this area of the brain that we learn how to read numerous facial cues and personal flair that one exhibits when interacting with others (Margalit). In the early 1900’s a psychosurgical procedure called the prefrontal lobotomy was first performed on humans. This “surgical operation separat[ed] the frontal brain lobes from the thalamus to relieve extreme anxiety” and was proclaimed a miracle cure for those suffering from mental disease (Shaffer). Some fifty years later the lobotomy became unpopular because “the operation caused mental deterioration” and would eventually be replaced with chemical versions of treatment; i.e., antipsychotic drugs, tranquilizers (Shaffer). Over time, scientist have begun to realize that when replacing real-life contact with symbols and text through a screen, the capabilities of the brains frontal lobe lose effectiveness; empathetic abilities dwindle and engaged interactions with real people become more and more difficult. Some addicted tech users have issues with depression and anxiety when having to interact with a real human being; through constant engagement with a screen and habitually less real-world interactions and relationships, we are losing our abilities to care, to understand, to feel emotion.
Is our desire to stay in touch and be in the know diminishing other aspects of our life? Are we missing out on things that, a decade ago, would have seemed important or meaningful in our lives, because our heads are titled downward towards a glowing screen more often than not? According to David Shenk, an award-winning author and contributor for the New York Times, “[w]hen it comes to information, it turns out that one can have too much of a good thing. At a certain level of input. . .the glut of information no longer adds to our quality of life, but instead begins to cultivate stress, confusion, and even ignorance.” Reasonably, being constantly plugged in is tuning people out. New technology within handheld devices is becoming more stimulating, more penetrating. Our constant tech use is not only beginning to affect our brain differently, but our psyches as well.
Social-media addicted youth are learning and behaving in ways that were unrecognizable just a decade ago. By actively using mobile devices as a springboard for creating and maintaining relationships critical social lessons are being lost-through lack of personal contact. Facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are just a few of the important things that humans need to experience in order practice empathy, as well as learning how to interact with others in a meaningful way. When teens use social media platforms and texting as their main source for communicating and being in relationships, they are losing out on affection, intimacy and the courage to express themselves for who they really are-when not hiding behind a screen. According to Dr. Sylvia Frejd, a professor and life coach in Lynchburg, Virginia, “Since 2000, empathy is down 40 percent among college students; narcissism is up 30 percent” (qtd. in Clay). Frejd and her team made posters that said “Look Up! Start a conversation. Think about it” (Clay). The posters were put on the ground around her campus; Frejd felt that the students were always looking down towards their phones anyway, and decided that the ground would be the ideal place to put the posters so they would be seen (Clay). Perhaps our addiction to social media and mobile phones is creating more spaces that are becoming “phone-friendly” and less opportunities for casual conversation; sensations and experiences are being lost because our heads are buried and absorbed in a screen.
Today’s children are losing out on important social interactions as well; situations that teach them valuable lessons on empathy, communication and problem-solving skills are being lost to fast-paced, stimulating and stationary electronic devices. Levels of childhood diabetes, obesity, sleep disorders, developmental delays, as well as behavioral and attention disorders are only rising; as more parent’s resort to “electronic baby-sitters” to care for their children in lieu of active engagement. Caregivers are teaching children that the child’s needs and desires aren’t important when they themselves are reluctant to look away from their screens when a child desperately calls for their attention. Some parents may mistakenly believe that when a child is in front of a TV or computer they are gaining a better sense of concentration; but in reality, just the opposite is happening. In early ages, the over-stimulation of a glowing screen creates desensitization, which in turn creates a need for high levels of stimulation, this can then lead to less focus in school and within interactions with others. In a report by the Alliance of Childhood, matters of interest were proposed concerning children and technology, “[c]hildren’s lives are increasingly filled with screen time rather than real time with nature, caring adults. . . and play. Yet only real relationships, not virtual ones, will inspire and prepare them to protect the Earth and all that lives on it” (“Digital Technologies”). Today’s children are simply relying on technology for the majority of their play; they are spending less time outdoors playing and interacting with other children and more time being entertained through a screen.
The effect mobile devices have on families is coming with a high price tag. Cyberbullying has affected the lives of numerous youth and teens. According to Ernie Allen, chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children:
“Cyberbullying” is the online version of the schoolyard bully’s hostile and repeated attacks, and its consequences can go beyond the virtual world. Investigations into the suicides of many cyberbullying targets have shown that harassment and public shame inflicted by way of the Internet and its SNSs [Social Networking Sites] played a major role in . . . young people’s decision to commit suicide. Laws and public education campaigns have been enacted to counter these activities. Indeed, policies and laws struggle to keep pace with the offline repercussions of online activities. (Voss)
When children are allowed unlimited access to their mobile devices and social media accounts one shouldn’t be surprised if or when a situation arises when the child feels they are being pressured or attacked by someone from behind the screen.
Technology has been in homes for decades, but mobile tech comes with us everywhere we go, even the dinner-table. Signaling the kids to dinner has resigned to families texting each other to let them know that their food is getting cold. Family suppers no longer consist of conversations around the table on the days happenings but rather, children watching YouTube videos, teens scrolling their Instagram feed and parents matching colored sweets while advancing through Candy Crush.
From the twenty-four-hour workday to teens’ perpetual distractions in the classroom, constant use of mobile devices is affecting our mental and physical health. Tech overload can damage and negatively impact many parts of one’s life; “increased levels of anxiety, short-term memory problems, poor concentration and a reduction in your decision-making skills” all cast a shadow over one’s ability to successfully manage day to day life, as well as make proactive decisions that allow us to function as mindful and considerate members of our communities (Shenk). Society is becoming more stationary in our attempts to multitask our way into bigger salaries; the compulsive desire to acquire more “likes” and “shares” and the seemingly unfulfilled need to be connected. It is hard for “smartphone-addicted” teens to form new memories and grasp new material when they are distracted so easily by the constant plings, dings and rings alerting them of every new social media update.
Certainly, we have come a long way in regards to mobile technology. Today’s cell phones have opened up an entirely new world of access to information that, just a decade ago, would have been unimaginable. The young and old have harnessed the convenience mobile tech has to offer and have powerfully used it to their advantage. Although the world is now, literally, at our fingertips, caution should be used when introducing these powerful tools to today’s youth; adults as well, should be aware of the disadvantages of tech-overload and proceed mindfully. Cell phone addiction can turn into a real problem that could have enormous effects on future generations. Through the excessive amount of time that so many people in today’s society devote to staring down at their illuminated screens; the never-ending interruptions, distracted drivers, negative impact on personal contact and not-so-surprising health effects are just some of the few albeit very important reasons we should consider limiting our dependence on mobile technology.
Clay, Gregory. “Digital Detox in College.” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, vol. 34, no. 9, 6/1/2017, pp. 21-23. EBSCOhost, delgado.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=123278826&site=ehost-live. Accessed 28 Oct 2017.
“Digital Technologies.” SAGE Key Concepts series: Key Concepts in Early Childhood Education and Care, Cathy Nutbrown, Sage UK, 2nd edition,2011. Credo Reference, delgado.idm.oclc.org/loginurl=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sageukecec/digital_technologies/0?institutionId=494. Accessed 28 Oct 2017.
Guidotti, Tee L. “Phineas Gage and His Frontal Lobe—The “American Crowbar Case”.” Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, vol. 67, no. 4, Oct. 2012, pp. 249-250. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/19338244.2012.722469. Accessed 27 Oct 2017.
Howard, Jacqueline. “Americans Devote More Than 10 Hours A Day to Screen Time, and Growing.” CNN, 29 July 2016, cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html. Accessed 26 Oct 2017.
Margalit, Liraz. “What Screen Time Can Really Do to Kids’ Brains.” Psychology Today, 17 April 2016, psychologytoday.com/blog/behind-online-behavior/201604/what-screen-time-can-really-do-kids-brains. Accessed 27 Oct 2017.
Shaffer, Helen B. “Human Engineering.” Editorial Research Reports 1971, vol. I, CQ Press, 1971, pp. 367-86. CQ Researcher, 2 Nov. 2017, library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1971051900. Accessed 27 Oct 2017.
Shenk, David. “Information Overload, Concept of.” Encyclopedia of International Media and Communications, Donald Johnston, Elsevier Science & Technology, 1st edition, 2003. Credo Reference, delgado.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/estimc/information_overload_concept_of/0?institutionId=494. Accessed 26 Oct 2017.
Voss, Tanya M. “Social Networking.” Global Social Issues: An Encyclopedia, edited by Christopher G. Bates, and James Ciment, Routledge, 1st edition, 2013. Credo Reference, https://delgado.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sharpesi/social_networking/0?institutionId=494. Accessed 29 Oct 2017.
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