Do cell phones and electronics interrupt our lives?

So what do you think?  Is the invention and rapid adoption of electronic technology such as smart phones and tablets, of social media and the ready access of all information at our finger tips a revolutionary advancement for humanity, or are there drawbacks that we are not always aware of?

In my research and reading about sleep patterns, sleep issues and a general quest to figure out why my midlife self runs out of energy quicker than i ever remember i have been reading, listening and observing a lot of information.  There is a quote i read in an article recently that astonished me:

“The average person with a smart phone/tablet/laptop today will consume the same amount of information in 1 week that someone alive in 1900 would have consumed in their entire lifetime. ”

Information is everywhere, and growing exponentially even as this article is being written.  Another article published in a British Journal indicated that in an average year each person published the equivalent of 6 books per year of content, whether normal business work, or postings on social media, blogs and such.

So the question is do cell phones and electronics interrupt our lives?

Many busy people will say no – they are a great aid to communications, they reduce the wait time for communication with others, and they are tools to make us more nimble and capable of accomplishing our purpose.  Yes, i can see this, and i bet you do too, considering you are reading this on some electronic device.

But here are a few concerns that experts are beginning to warn about:

  1. We are being trained to focus our time and attention on each and every ding, chirp or vibration that come with notice of a new message, or email.  If Pavlov, the clinical researcher who developed ground breaking work on the power of stimulus and response, were alive i would bet he would view us in the same way he viewed his canine research subjects, responding to the sound of a bell with a drooling expectation for a treat.  We have begun training ourselves to respond immediately to dings, chirps and such.  The down side of this is attention being distracted from what we were actually doing,  Neuro-scientists refer to this as a rewiring of our behavior pathways in our brain.  We begin to loose our capability to concentrate on one thing because of this tyranny of the urgent.
  2. Sociologists tell us that as we modify our behavior to see what has come in on our s mart phones we spend less time in face to face communication, and interpersonal conversations become much more brief, with some people preferring to communicate via their phone or hide behind live chats.
  3. The actual devices give off microwaves, which can impact our circadian rhythms, sleep patterns, and thought patterns.  In large doses microwave exposure can have a carcinogenic effect.  The sleep research i have read recommends sweeping your bedroom of all electronics and if they must be  charged, do so in another room at a distance from the bedroom.
  4. Boldness and bullying – A personal observation, however over the past few years the rise of strong opinion, intolerance for difference of opinion, and a “herd mentality” that there is only one real opinion – and should you differ from it you are a problem has risen from a low din to a loud and obnoxious feature of social media, and most of the news media.  So many people have found a voice hidden behind the print of social media, but in person they lack the facts, or the strong opinion to discuss objectively.
  5. Difficulty unplugging – It does not seem that far in the past when you could step away from the house and for a time you were free of the ability to be contacted…. you could take the dog for a walk and just soak in the surroundings, think through those tough things, or just have fun walking the dog.  Not so any more – smart phone in a pocket and the world can reach you any time…. and in fact, thank you google, they even know where you are, and quite possibly what you are doing.  The subtle repetitive act of checking the phone becomes a pattern that becomes a habit that resembles an addiction.  Just have your cell phone break and see how you handle life!

Well my little article would not be complete without a few thoughts of how to cope with, or mitigate the effects of constant electronic barrage of inundation:

  • Take a notebook and pen, and set them next to your cell phone.  For 1 hour just note on the notebook every time you look at your phone, respond to a chirp, ding or vibration, noting what you responded to (text, email, social media alert, etc) and what you were doing when this occurred.  Do this exercise for 1 week, and then plan 20 minutes to review and reflect on your activity.    Ask yourself if there is a trend.  Also ask if that interruption of your normal activity was necessary, or optional.
  • If you are finding that you are looking at your cell phone more than 1-2 times per hour perhaps developing strategy for dealing with this might be good.  I purpose to look at my cell phone only 3 times between 7am-Lunch.  At lunch i carve out time to review and quickly eliminate anything not important, and plan how to respond to important things in order of urgency.
  • Select a place to charge your electronics that is away from your bedroom.
  • Plan to turn off or put away electronic devices for the hour before you go to sleep.
  • Plan to put your devices away when you are meeting with someone, and just talk face to face
  • Unplug – set your devices aside, and just spend an hour, a half day, a weekend without them.  I promise, they will be waiting for you.

Lets enjoy these devices as tools for our lives, not allowing them to enslave us, dumb us down ,and degrade the one great strength we have as humans – the ability to talk with each other. (yes, i know we have many strengths, but for the point of this article lets agree that face to face communication is an amazing gift because you can see the emotion, understand the context of the words, and make that connection not found in electronics even with emoticons present     ).