The phone has become more than a communication device; it is the personal computer, the calendar, and the information hub in our lives. It is common to see people on the phone all the time, oblivious of their surroundings and others. Individuals are using their phones when driving a car, walking on the sidewalk, waiting in line at the grocery store, and even during mealtimes. It appears to be the norm now to be on the phone rather than conversing with others. There is even a term for it now: phubbing. Phubbing refers to snubbing others in favor of the mobile phone. No one can argue that the mobile phone is an excellent tool to connect us, to check the internet and to check our email. It directs us in traffic, it helps us locate a gas station and it alerts others that we need assistance. It helps business owners conduct transactions when not in the office.
But have we let it take over our lives?
More and more research demonstrates that long term use of the cell phone, and computer has harmful effects on youngsters and adults. It harms relationships, creates anxiety, increases resentment, increases depression and increases loneliness. It becomes an addiction.
The definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine is: Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.
Here’s how it works: We hear a “beep” notification from the phone alerting us that someone has emailed, texted, or posted something on facebook. We pick up the phone, check it out and may think, “Oh that’s neat.” We get little “brain rewards” when we are on the phone; checking email, searching the web and looking at facebook. This motivates us to keep checking the phone throughout the day. Our brain “remembers” these little biscuits and we want more. So, we keep checking the phone, social media and internet. Sometimes we spend so much time on the internet that we neglect our own self care needs.
Research also reveals that the perception that we are connecting with friends via internet does not replace actual live human connections. The less human contact we have with each other isolates us and increases depression, anxiety and loneliness. The phone/internet addiction adds to the loss of real relationships. It also lowers self esteem, increases resentment and compounds the loss of original and creative thoughts.
A balance can be achieved with the use of the phone/internet and other areas of our lives. Very simple changes can be implemented. Here are some suggestions:
Turn off notifications.
Use an old fashioned alarm clock instead of your phone.
Stop use of all electronics one hour before bedtime.
Avoid bringing the phones to the table at meal times.
Connect with nature.
Arrange friends/family game night.
Place the phone in your desk drawer at work or keep it in your briefcase/purse.
Make eye contact with others when talking with them.
Have lunch with an friend.
If you find yourself struggling to keep the phone on a table away from you and scoff at the above suggestions, consider that you may have an excessive attachment to your phone (made of metal and plastic). The phone cannot console you, it cannot hug you and it cannot provide the essential aspects of human connection (eye contact, affection, empathy, friendship, compassion). Interact with the people and life around you as opposed to letting the phone rule your life. Remember it is tool and just a tool.