Smartphones were introduced to the public a little over ten years ago and, in that time, they have completely taken over our lives. It is now considered normal to carry around a miniature computer in our pockets that is millions of times more powerful than every single computer that NASA used during the lunar landing in 1969, combined. The smartphone has quickly become our most precious possession, causing a mild panic attack whenever we can’t locate it right away. It’s our camera, photo album, calendar, calculator, alarm clock, music player and GPS navigator. It’s also our means of communication via text, our primary connection to social media platforms, and our daily source for news, weather and silly cat videos. Some people have even reported using their phones to make real, actual phone calls. With all the benefits that the smartphone brings to our lives, it’s hard to imagine any downside to having one. However, spending too much time on your smartphone has been shown to have a negative impact on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual life.
Using your phone is not necessarily a bad thing, but these days we are spending way too much time staring down at our devices. My research revealed that, on average, we check our phones 150 times a day, or once every six minutes. It’s gotten to the point where we are currently spending an average of 3 hours a day looking at our phones, an average that is increasing annually. Something needs to be done to reverse this unhealthy trend before it’s too late. Let’s examine the various ways in which smartphones can negatively impact our lives and see what, if anything, we can do about it.
1. Physical impact. Every minute you spend on your phone is sedentary time, in that you are not moving around or getting any exercise during this time. Too much sedentary time can lead to a whole host of problems from obesity to cardiovascular disease. However, perhaps the most prevalent physical problem that has come about in the smartphone era is an ailment known as “text neck.” When you observe people scrolling on their phones, notice the angle of their heads. The human head weighs about ten pounds but, for every inch that the head is angled forward, an extra ten pounds of pressure is added to the neck. This chronic forward angle takes the natural curve out of your cervical spine and causes your neck muscles to work extra hard just to hold your head up. By the end of the day, your neck muscles become strained and fatigued, leading to tension headaches and painful muscle spasms. To counter text neck, raise your phone up away from your lap when you are using it, keeping the weight of your head balanced squarely on top of your shoulders.
2. Mental impact. Paradoxically, our smartphones are actually causing us to get progressively dumber. There has been a number of articles written about smartphone addiction and the short attention spans that we are all developing as a result. But one thing that doesn’t get mentioned very often is how mentally lazy our phones are making us. Carrying around a smartphone means never having to think about anything, ever again. Thanks to Google, as soon as you are faced with any kind of question or quandary, you can just Google it and the answer will appear in less than a second. It’s like carrying around an extra brain with you at all times, one that is flawless at math, never misses an appointment, and knows the answer to every single question that ever existed. As a result, we no longer have to perform calculations, remember phone numbers or appointment times, or possess any factual knowledge. Also, when we blindly accept Google’s results as the indisputable truth, it robs us of the ability to analyze and reason. Instead of looking at both sides of an argument and reaching our own logical conclusions, we take whatever comes up first on the search page as the truth and barely give it a second thought.
3. Emotional impact. Humans need social interaction in order to feel connected, supported and validated. But, thanks to the smartphone, we have practically eliminated the need to have real human interactions anymore. We seem perfectly content to focus on our screens, ignorant of everyone and everything around us. When we do have something to say, we can easily text it or send it in an email, eliminating any chance of awkwardness or of accidentally saying the wrong thing. The problem is that we need genuine human interaction in order to feel loved, supported and acknowledged. As human interactions are replaced with digital interactions, we feel increasingly isolated and alone. Social media gives us the illusion that we have hundreds of friends, but the truth is that we are more disconnected from each other than ever before. Our full attention and presence are perhaps the greatest gifts we can give to each other, yet we have all been out to dinner and witnessed families sitting around the table in silence, each person immersed in their own social media feed. When did scrolling through random photos of people you barely know become more important than spending quality time with loved ones?
4. Spiritual impact. The spiritual path basically involves learning how to connect with your higher self and/or with a source greater than yourself. However, because of the smartphone, many of us have replaced our desire to connect to God with our desire to connect to WiFi. As human beings, we naturally seek connection with a higher source and, in many cases, connecting to WiFi satisfies that impulse. As a result, we don’t feel the need to seek any further. Another impact of the smartphone on spirituality is that we have fewer opportunities to experience the present moment. Rather than being comfortable and at ease in the present, we quickly reach for our phones in order to keep our minds distracted. Spending time in the present with an open and empty mind often leads to creative thoughts and spiritual epiphanies. Constantly distracting our minds doesn’t allow us the time and space for creative inspiration or for connection with our true source.
Ironically, the majority of you are reading this blog on your smartphone. And that is perfectly okay. The point is not to eliminate phone use, but rather to be smart about it. According to my calculations (that I just did on my phone), a person who averages three hours a day on their smartphone will spend over 45 days a year immersed in their little screens. Maintain this average over an 80-year lifespan, and you will end up spending 10 years of your life looking at your phone. That is a significant amount time, therefore it’s important to recognize whether the time you spend on your phone is feeding your soul or if you are just keeping your mind busy. Our brief stint here on Earth means that time is our most precious commodity. Try not to waste your precious time on things that don’t really matter.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.