‘Smartphone addict goes blind after 24 hours gaming binge’. This was the headline of the news item appeared recently in Times of India. As an educator, I have been much concerned about the unreasonable excess use of the Smartphone among the young students. This Beijing news says that a 21 year old Chinese woman went blind in one eye, after a 24 hours Marathon gaming on her mobile phone in North West China. She was diagnosed with retinal artery occlusion in her right eye at the hospital. This condition is associated usually with elderly people and rarely seen in the young. Doctors believe that this woman’s blindness was caused by severe eye-strain developed by the continuous over use of smart phone.
I have noticed that many young boys and girls are seriously addicted to smart phones. When I was traveling in a late night flight recently, an young man who was seated near to me was playing games continuously during the entire journey without trying to sleep or take a nap like many other passengers. He was really unwary of the disturbances caused by him to the passengers seated near. In public places like railway station, airport launch, train, bus, restaurants etc, we see most of the people fully immersed in their smart phones, without any awareness about surroundings. Smartphone is definitely a villain in class rooms and places of worship.. Most people are so addicted to smart phones that they are unable to part with it even during eating or while in bedrooms or toilets. In spite of strict rules, many use mobile phones during driving or crossing busy streets, causing vulnerability to serious accidents.
Just like other forms of addictions, smart phone addiction also will be having some underlying psychological issues. This can be caused by depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. Smartphone addiction is associated with nomophobia.
Nomophobia is a new term to indicate the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use your phone for some reason. This term was coined by YouGov, a research organization in UK. In a study researchers found that 53% or more of the mobile users felt anxious when they were unable to use their mobile phones. The fear of being without one’s mobile is one of the biggest phobias in the world and it is seen that 66% of the mobile users are affected by it. A study showed that young adults aged between 18 and 24 tended to be the most addicted to their mobile phones, with 77% unable to stay apart for more than a few minutes. 68% those aged 25-34 were affected by nomophobia.
A study named ‘the world unplugged’ conducted a survey among 1000 university students in ten different countries. They were asked to avoid cell phones, laptops and social networking for 24 hours. Majority of them showed serious mental and physical discomfort, distress, panic confusion and extreme isolation during withdrawal period. Most of them were unable to go full day without cell phones and refused to continue in the survey group.
Even though children are more predominantly addicted to smart phones, adults are also the victims of this social malady. After all, it is not easy to identify the smart phone addiction since many are using their phones positively for various essential purposes.
Technology at Fingertip
I am not denying the fact that smart phone is an incredibly useful device with almost everybody. Many are using it as a modern technology at their finger tips. It allows us to stay connected organized and entertained. These mini computers have changed our lives in all respects. We carry out all activities like banking, shopping, paying bills, browsing information etc with this. Smart phone eliminates our need for address books, notepads, cameras, voice recorders, dictionaries, encyclopedias, alarm clocks, watches and calculators. Smart phones have increasingly become a tool to use to navigate or organize our daily chores. Anything is available and possible at a finger touch.
Our dependence on this device is increasing day by day so that we cannot think of a moment without this gadget. As a humorist stated; ‘People are prisoners of their mobile phones, that’s why they are called ‘cell phones’.
Smart phone addiction
Smart phone addiction has nonetheless become a serious psycho-social problem of the modern world. The latest data from Apple revealed that smart phone users check their phones compulsively averaging about 80 times a day. Another study estimated the number as 150 times a day. A recent study among American adults found that an average of 12 hours is consumed by smart phones.
We all see couples sitting together in coffee shops & restaurants ignoring each other and engaging with their smart phones. Smart phone has become the most intimate and dearer companion than friends and family members for many. A study indicated that one in ten participants revealed that they have used their phones even during sex. 12% used smart phone in the shower, 50% admitted that they still text while driving which is six times more dangerous than driving drunk.
Most of the students and youth are engaged in the virtual digital online games using their smart phones. Some games like Blue Whale are reported to be dangerous to life, leading players to self destructive activities including suicides. Very recently the Supreme Court of India declared the Blue Whale on line game a threat to life and directed the public broadcaster Doordarsan to telecast a cautionary and educational programme on prime time about the dangers of the on line game. This is for making the parents and children aware of the dangers of this game and save the children from being trapped in to the killer game.
Symptoms of smart phone addiction
People having smart phone addiction suffer from extreme anxiety, when separated from their phones. This causes high blood pressure and reduced attention span. There are a number of compulsive behaviours observed in a smart phone addict or homophobic.
- They constantly check their phones and feel compulsion to respond immediately, even during driving, while in theater or religious places.
- They are tempted to use their smart phones even in the shower or during sex.
- They spend more and more time with on line friends neglecting their family and real friends.
- They keep checking their phones even during intimate conversations with close friends or important personalities and are unable to listen to them properly.
- They engage in gaming, gambling, stock trading, on line shopping etc which may lead to serious financial and social problems.
- They wake up in the night several times automatically to check their phones.
- They become panic when the phone is about to run out of battery, or where there is no signal or restrictions to use
- They check or use the phone compulsively even during their lunch or dinner.
- Since they are involved in smart phone activities most of the time they tend to ignore their family or friends, and may not get time for their works, hobbies, exercise or other important things in their lives, creating several serious problems.
Hazards of Smart Phone Addiction
The following are some of the major hazards of smart phone addiction
- Negative personality traits
A U.K. study revealed that people who spend too much time on social media are more likely to display negative personality traits, such as narcissism and self-centeredness distancing from their real life relationships.
- Affects emotional development of children
Texting, talking or social net working over smart phone cannot provide the same psychological benefits one is getting from a direct human interaction. The over use of smart phone will considerably reduce the time for direct human interactions, even in families. This will result in the isolation of the child in the family and the emotional and behavioral development of the child is seriously affected
- Anxiety and depression
Spending too much time on smart phones, can lead to anxiety and depression as one expects constant updates and positive responses from others and become depressed when there one not received as he desires. A Northwestern university study showed that the more time people spend on their mobile phones, the more likely they are to be depressed.
Staring at mobile screen for long hours prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, the natural sleep chemical and this will lead to interrupted sleep patterns or insomnia.
- Fitness and health problems
A smart phone addict wastes several hours in the virtual world and hence gets no time for exercising and other daily routines. This will affect his health and fitness adversely. In a study among college students, it was found that students who spent 14 hours daily on their smart phones were less fit than those who averaged about 1.5 hours use.
- Attention deficit disorder
The continuous stream of messages and information from smart phone can overwhelm the brain and make it impossible to focus attention on any one thing. This may lead to serious attention deficit disorder.
It has been found by researchers from Microsoft that the over use of smart phones reduces the attention span of the user.
- Social consequences
If you spend most of your time on smart phone, neglecting your face to face relationships, you will be isolated from family and real friends. University of Essex, researchers, found that during personal conversations, when a cell phone was nearby, individuals felt lesser intimacy & trust in the partner. A Maryland University study says that smart phone addiction is likely to make one more self- centered and less pro-social.
- Risk of accidents
Hand held cell phone use while driving is banned in many countries like India but hands free set is not. Researches in Yet Carnegie Mellon University found that drivers who are in conversation on their phones have 37 percent reduced brain activity causing distractions and accidents. If they are using hand held cell phones while driving they are at a greater risk.
Even pedestrians using cell phones are at a higher risk of causing accidents.
- Threat to eye sight
Excessive direct exposure to blue light emitted from cell phone screen can cause damage to the retina of the eye. In a survey among 2000 people, 55% respondents confessed that they experienced eye discomfort with the use of cell phones. Looking at distant objects or at the greenery of nature frequently is one method to reduce eye strain.
- Hearing problems
Many are in the habit of listening to music from their smart phones using head phones. Such noise from headphones can damage the long hairs in the inner ear which transmit chemical signals through nerves to the brain, especially if it is for many hours.
WHO has already classed cell phones as possibly carcinogenic to humans. World Health Organization and national governments are trying to develop strict regulations concerning cell phones that create electromagnetic fields.
Robert Beeker, the famous American doctor and two time Nobel prize nominee, once said; ‘The greatest polluting element in the earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields. I consider that to be a far greater threat on a global scale than warming or the increase of chemical elements in the environment’.
How to save yourself from smart phone addiction?
South Korea is one of the most heavily affected countries in the world by smart phone addiction. Korean government is taking serious steps for addressing this problem. The science ministry is conducting special programmes in schools to warn the students against the smart phone addiction and make them aware of its serious hazards and perils. It is high time to start such measures in every country. UNESCO can take the initiative for promoting such programmes world wide.
There are many famous personalities who deliberately abstained from using smart phones. Warren Buffet, world’s third richest man doesn’t have a smart phone. Former Indian president, APJ Abdul Kalam was not in any habit of using smart phones. The former Microsoft CEO and world’s richest person once confessed that his kids were denied access to cell phones until they turned 14. Even as adults, they use their smart phones only for a limited time.
You can take a number of practical steps to save yourself from smart phone addiction or nomophobia. If you are still unable to manage your addiction even with the following practical steps, you have to seek psychological help from an expert
1.Be aware of your phone addiction.
The famous Lebanese-American writer and scholar, Nassim Nicholas Teleb remarked; ‘The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free’. The first step to escape from the smart phone addiction is to be aware of the over use of your phones and its harmful consequences. Then only you can take some remedial measures.
- Keep a log of your smart phones use
When you start recording a log of your smart phone use, you will really understand how much valuable time is wasted daily for unnecessary and unimportant things, neglecting far more important and precious things in your life.
- Try to recognize the psychological triggers
Are you using your mobile phones for escaping from loneliness, boredom, stress or anxiety? Many are trying to escape from their bad moods by resorting to playing games, texting, chatting, surfing, blogging or tweeting. You have to find out healthier and more effective ways to manage your bad moods, stress or anxiety.
- Replace your smart phone use with healthy and more rewarding activities.
If you can include meditation, reading books, walking, gardening, swimming & cycling in your daily life, you wouldn’t be tempted to get logged to your smart phone for time pass.
- Take a resolve to reduce your smart phone use as far as possible. Change your habit of using your smart phone for anything everything.
- Turn your phone off when you go to sleep, while eating, driving, praying, meditating, exercising or listening to speeches or sermons.
- Establish phone free zones and take deliberate phone breaks while working.
- Love your family & friends more than your phone and spend more time with them.
- Take it as a principle that you don’t use your phone during conversations with your friends or others. That will strengthen your relationships.
- Delete apps which are not essential. Unnecessary apps create distractions to you always.
- Use your watch to check the time and date rather than your phone.
- Remove your social media apps from your phone and use your computer for checking social media. This will reduce your temptation to cheek it every now and then.
- Remember that face to face interactions are healthier, stress bursting and calming. On line relations cannot provide these benefits & solace and cannot be a substitute for real face to face contacts.
- Increase your family interaction time.
Today each family member may be in his or her own isolated world with his or her smart phone. If you can increase the regular family interaction time, the temptation for over lingering on smart phones can be reduced and consequently the family relations will become warmer and happy.
The famous American films and television actor Giovanni Ribisi proudly said; ‘I am old fashioned with my cell phone and I like human contact and think it’s important’.
Let us not forget the advice of a great author; ‘Your cell phone has already replaced your camera, your calendar, your alarm clock. Don’t let it replace your family.’
About the Author:
Dr. John Muzhuthettu
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV . He is the author of five best-selling books:
- ‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
- Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
- Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(css,Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
- Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
- Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha. Email:([email protected])
Read More from Dr. John Muzhuthettu: