Cellphones are like sugar.
They are a staple of modern American life. The level of addiction associated with them is vastly under-estimated, as is the level to which they poison us and shorten our lives. Yet few Americans can function without any cellphone use at all.
Thus is the conundrum of the cellphone.
Certainly cellphones have improved our lives in myriad ways. They place a camera at our disposal, connect us with the vast knowledge of humanity, and keep us in contact with those we need all the time. They are indispensable for business and in emergencies.
The problem is they are responsible for creating their own emergencies, or at least they are complicit with the people who are responsible.
Cellphones and Depression
New research is revealing the depth to which phones have taken over our lives and put us in danger. As of 2015, 91 percent of American adults and 60 percent of teens owned a cell phone. The average person spends two-and-a-half hours a day using their phone and 80% of us check our phones within 15 minutes of waking.
Research has found that cellphone use is depressing teens, inspiring hopelessness and increasing their suicidal ideation. That study focused on data from 2012, before Snapchat became the drug of choice for teens. Even then, teens who spent significant time on their device, whether texting, watching cat videos or posting selfies on Instagram, were 71% more likely to consider suicide. By 2015, researcher Jean Twenge found that happiness among college freshmen cratered, loneliness spiked and the suicide rate among girls 12-14 tripled.
Dr. Twenge believes it isn’t just correlation that the surge in depression exactly coincides with a dramatic drop in face-to-face communication and a corresponding spike in electronic communication. “Why has in-person social interaction declined? Probably because screen time has increased,” she said.
In addition, the use of social media became de rigueur for teens during this time. Meta-analysis (i.e., analysis of all published studies on a topic combined) has found an inverse relationship between social media exposure and emotional well-being in teens, at least partially because they are comparing their lives to the idealized lives of others on social media.
Phone Use – It’s Much Worse Than You Thought
Our physical health is at risk as well. The rates of car crashes, and of fatal accidents, have pinged up 14% during 2014-2017 after decades of declines. Despite safer cars, drivers are so distracted by their phones that they have become a greater menace on the roads than ever. Much of the issue is the state of denial exhibited by many drivers. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found 30% of drivers 21-34 said texting had no impact on their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Research shows that texting while driving increases the risk of an accident by 800%-2,200%. That is a greater impact than a driver turning around in their seat.
Texting and surfing aren’t the only phone dangers. Even talking on the phone, hands-free, with eyes on the road hikes the crash rate by 300%. The notion of multi-tasking is a myth; the center of the brain used for conversation is the same one required for the calculations used to drive safely. We just don’t have enough bandwidth to do both.
The effects are evident on a college campus. Just walk on the sidewalk and count the minutes before a student engrossed in their phone walks into you. It won’t take long. In a recent survey, 50% of college students admitted they were “addicted” to their phones. Though college students aren’t clinicians, consensus is coalescing in the psychology field about the existence of a smartphone addiction.
Smartphones are a great convenience. They are also a major hazard when improperly used. The problem is that they are improperly used ever so much.