Whether you agree or disagree (or are not sure), I strongly recommend reading Nicholas Carr's essay How Smartphones Hijack our Minds in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. Here is a link, but reading the full article will probably require a subscription. Copies of the Journal are, however, widely available in libraries and offices.
Carr's essay summarizes a large amount of recent scientific research that, in essence, proves that smartphones are more than a simple distraction, and actually decrease our ability to think and reason. Here are a few of the more compelling points:
- One study shows that students performing a test who had their phones in view performed worse than those with their phones in a pocket or bag, and worse still than those whose phones were stored in a different room.
- Merely the presence of a phone decreased the quality of personal social interaction.
- The ability to consult Google and search engines diminishes the ability to remember.
Carr's ultimate conclusion is not surprising, but still somewhat stunning: The insight [from the studies] "sheds light on our society's current gullibility crisis, in which people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you'll believe anything it tells you." Carr's article is well worth the ten to fifteen minutes it takes to read, and offers many more insights.
What Carr's article does not cover are the other very significant costs smartphones impose on our lives:
- Distracted driving. I have given up counting how many times I've seen drivers ripping through a parking deck, phone held to their ear and paying no attention to pedestrians.
- A complete lack of awareness of surroundings. This includes people (particularly college students) who cross busy streets while staring at (or talking on) their smartphone, assuming that the "walk" sign will somehow protect them from a distracted driver blowing through a light.
- The complete loss of privacy. George Orwell's 1984 laid out a future with an absolute lack of privacy, when every citizen's movements were monitored through a telescreen. Today, we gladly carry telescreens in our pockets! For people who, quite literally, live on their phones, a complete loss of privacy is only a hack away.
- When I'm at home, my smartphone is stowed. I don't need to be available 24/7.
- Have "phone free" dinners and other social encounters. Engage in conversation with real people.
- Get out in nature or out in the city without your phone (or with it turned off). Use your powers of observation. Watch a sunset, gaze at the stars, or listen to the rain falling or the wind whispering through the trees.
- Don't talk on a phone while you are driving unless your car has hands free capability, and, even then, stay off it when you are in parking garages or traffic.
- Apple's IOS 11 has a very useful feature that prevents notifications when you are driving. It works. Let's hope it becomes a standard feature on all phones.
- Limit the information stored on your phone. Do you really want your whole life available to someone who hacks it or finds it if it is lost?
- Make sure to lock the phone with a password or fingerprint technology (or the face recognition technology that is coming).
- Schools should strongly think about limiting any access to phones during the school day.