The cell phone today has nearly complete market penetration. According to the Pew Internet Project on mobile technology research, 90 percent of American adults own a cell phone and 58 percent have a smartphone.
This relatively new technology has also provided a rich field for study. And what psychologists are finding isn't encouraging. At the top of the list is the concern about addiction. There is increasing evidence that more and more of us are becoming addicted to these devices. One of my colleagues teaches a college class on technology. One of the requirements is to take a 24-hour fast from technology by handing over their smartphone to him. A surprisingly large percentage of students cannot do this.
With the addiction to cell phones comes another concern. We are passing down the bad manners that often accompany cell phone use to the next generation. Parents ignore their children when they are on the phone. Children learn that it is easier to send a text than to call someone or have a face-to-face conversation.
Psychiatry professor David Greenfield lists all the associated problems with excessive cell phone use. "It can lead to a marked reduction in real-time social interaction as our capacity and desire for regular face-to-face conversation decreases." He also talks about the displacement of other positive activities. "When we're engaged in these digital technologies we're not doing other things that may be important for our lives, whether it's exercise, socializing or work."
He also explains why some people can so easily be addicted to cell phones. He says a smartphone is like the "smallest slot machine in the world." When your phone buzzes, you can't predict what the message might be. It could be something good or exciting, so we get a pleasurable neurochemical hit of dopamine.
Cell phones are supposed to make our lives better, and they do. But in the process, many have become slaves to these devices. It's time for many of us to break the chains that addictively bind us to these devices.
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