You know the drill. You’re sitting with a friend and chatting when, suddenly, their attention is drawn away. Not by a screeching emergency vehicle, a building on fire or possibly an injured child — but by their phone … that’s not ringing. All of a sudden, an invisible line is crossed where they desperately need to check their email or text messages, maybe even surf the web. It’s as if their attention span only has the capacity for a few minutes of meaningful, face-to-face conversation, and then — poof! — they’re compelled to venture off somewhere else via a small handheld device.
Not only is this scenario frustrating and absurd, it’s also an indicator of where we stand as a society — which isn’t pretty. Adding to the mix of concerns, scientists are particularly worried about the emotional and cognitive development of children using cellphones and tablets, mainly because it’s such a sensitive developmental stage in life. If we can actually breakaway from our technology for a few moments, we may begin to question whether or not we are creating entire generations of emotionally and intellectually challenged human beings — all because of our addiction to mobile gadgets.
How Technology is Changing the Landscape of Human Interaction
Writes Mark Glaser for Mediashift:
“The unspoken subtext of checking text messages in front of friends is: “Somewhere else there is someone who I care about more than you. I want to know what they have to say more than what you have to say to me now.” The idea of being present in the moment is disappearing faster than you can say, “Hey, I’ve got to take this call…” We devalue our current situation, the friends and family around us, our surroundings and setting, for something going on somewhere else.”
He believes the urge to be constantly connected via smartphones and tablets is actually akin to a psychological illness called dissociative disorder. In other words — and here’s the irony — we are becoming increasingly disconnected from reality and each other through the use of mobile gadgets. So what may look like ‘connectedness’ through technology is really promoting a lack of true connection.
We also need to keep in mind that, according to an article in the November 2012 issue of San Francisco Medicine:
“A cell phone is a two-way microwave radio with intermittent and destabilizing pulses, unlike microwave ovens that steadily operate at the same frequencies at much greater power. The weak and erratic microwave radiation from cell phones and tablets cannot directly break the bonds that hold molecules together, but it does disrupt DNA, weaken the brain’s protective barrier, and release highly reactive and damaging free radicals.”
This is especially disturbing when we consider youth are increasingly using wireless gadgets for hours on end.
Likewise, a commentary published in the journal Pediatrics also raises concerns about the use of interactive media by young children.
“It has been well-studied that increased television time decreases a child’s development of language and social skills. Mobile media use similarly replaces the amount of time spent engaging in direct human-human interaction,” explained corresponding author Jenny Radesky, MD, clinical instructor in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and a former fellow in pediatrics at Boston Medical Center.
Moreover, the team questions if the heavy use of electronic devices could hinder the development of empathy, along with social and problem solving skills, which are normally obtained through unstructured play and face-to-face interaction with peers. “These devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” added Radesky.
And it’s not just a problem for the up-and-coming generation either. Those far from youth and the college age years are also overusing their smartphones. Take Glaser’s old college buddy, who makes this final point:
“Even people my age are addicted to them,” he said. “I try not to have them on me at all. I just don’t like the idea of people being able to contact me wherever I go. I’d rather be with the people around me than worry about who’s going to call me, who I need to call back and all that. It’s really a sad state of our society to see so many people tied down to their cell phones.”