Hooked on Smartphones

Cartoon by Aarti Dureja, Staff Writer
Cartoon by Aarti Dureja, Staff Writer

You, reader, are surely very intelligent and hardworking, and you must be quite busy with your many activities. Perhaps you are stressed and harried and barely have two minutes to greet a friend. You probably use your phone excessively to manage your activities, social life and even academics. All of this is completely understandable – you are paving your path to a great future. But I think you and I both may be spending too much time looking down with our ears plugged while not spending enough time looking up and around.

A typical newborn baby is curious and looks around the world, eager to learn more. Soon the baby will be on its feet, toddling around and getting into lots of trouble while in its adventurous state of mind. Retention of that sense of adventure and curiosity can take us to the most amazing places, be it literary creation or scientific discovery. Nowadays, we are so consumed with our electronic devices that we forget to ponder, we forget to explore, and we forget about life.

A few key things recently have catalyzed a chain reaction of thoughts in my mind, and I’ve started wondering about how technology affects our thinking. One catalyst was the Sept. 7 article, “Driving Against Time” by staff writer and College junior Erik Alexander, who did an excellent job exploring our tendency to be consumed by texting. Secondly, I’ve realized how vexing it is to see everyone with their heads down, focused on their phones and nothing else. It seems to happen with half of the people present in any setting – while eating, while in class or even when walking around. I suppose it’s not really any of my business, but it still drives me crazy.

The other catalyst was the effect of my recent conscious decision to wean myself off my music. I had let my love of music become too distracting for me in the recent past, to the point where it hindered my focus on school. All day, I would walk around listening to music, even if it were just a walk from the library to White Hall. Soon, I felt that needed music so much, I would try to listen to it even when it clearly disturbed me. I felt I was getting “addicted” to music. So I put the music away. And I feel more attentive and alert as a result.

An addiction to music is apparently quite possible. Music may be analogous to cocaine when it comes to the way it affects our brains and makes us feel. Using the same reward system that cocaine uses, listening to “pleasurable music” releases dopamine in the brain. The release of dopamine is what causes our feelings of pleasure and encourages us to again engage in that behavior – in this case, listening to music.

I had to wonder if other features of our electronic devices could have similar addictive effects, such as Facebook notifications, text messages and other social media notifications. If so, technology could pose another serious problem for us. If it gets extreme enough, could there be such as thing as technology abuse, and could it turn out to be similar to the public health issue of drug abuse?

What are we missing when we use our devices too much? Conversation, solidarity, concentration, the list goes on. Even when spending time with some of our more scarce friends, you might find that much of the time, we’ll be on our phones, checking Facebook or texting other people instead of actually talking to each other. We do this at the dinner table, while we walk somewhere, while we’re just hanging out together. Later, we’ll tell the other that we never see each other; of course you won’t see me, because half the time I’m with you, you’re looking at your phone. Nowadays, we don’t even excuse ourselves when we get on our phones – we just do it. But this shows a lack of common courtesy, and it shows that we are not paying attention to our present company. Don’t say you can still pay attention! That’s what all the texters-and-drivers say, and are avoidable accidents still accidents?

Of course this generation has concentration issues. To echo Alexander’s succinct words, multi-tasking is not efficient – it is a sign of inefficiency and an “inability to manage time.” As I consider this, I realize my mom has said something similar. My mom says, for example, not to read or do homework while I eat, to do one thing at a time, because I am neither enjoying my food properly, nor am I focusing on the work entirely. As much as I think I can do homework while eating or watching TV, I cannot, and it probably takes thrice as long anyways. And as almost always, my mom is right (but don’t tell her I said that).

Please consider looking up a little more often. Make the effort to greet someone face-to-face rather than text-to-text. You don’t always need Facebook. People around you have completely functional faces you can use to interact with them. I’ve really felt that looking at my phone a little less has made me more lucid and aware of the world. The effect was sort of a clairvoyance – not in a “new age” kind of way. It feels like I’m participating more actively in life just by being on my phone a little less. I smell the crisper breezes that autumn brings, feel the sunlight and shadows on my skin and see the radiant hues of the sky (one night it was an amazing purplish mauve). I experience my thoughts with more clarity, and I feel more prone to creativity. Realizations come to me more easily, whether it be a few lines of poetry or a sudden comprehension of a difficult organic chemistry concept. These kinds of insights and active experiences don’t happen when you’re distracted and on your phone.

Disconnect from e-things and reconnect with life. Have you noticed how, around this time of year, the sun lights up the green leaves of the trees so radiantly? The leaves are a brilliant spring green and are lined, as if with gold. I think it is most vibrant at 10 a.m. (especially on the quad) and at 6 p.m.. Watch it one time before all the leaves drift away.​

– Aarti Dureja is a College junior from Westminster, Colorado.