Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to put down your smartphone?
There are hidden psychological effects that smartphones are having on our brains. Studies show that smartphone users are developing serious problems, like real addictions, and losing the ability to focus.
Mobile technology, such as 5G, isn’t going anywhere, so we must become aware of these effects so we can better use technology – instead of letting it use us.
Jeff Butler holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of California Berkeley and has studied psychology for almost a decade. After working as a Software Engineer, Jeff turned his focused towards his true passion- psychology.
He has started several companies since, and his most recent company Tek Life Mastery, helps professionals conquer tech distraction to get more done in less time. He speaks at various clubs, colleges, and corporations regarding tech distraction.
Aside from working on his companies, his primary aim in life is to show people how to live more fulfilling lives whether that’s from helping them find their purpose in life or inspiring them to new levels of achievement.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.
Welcome to Jang Xiao, China, a booming city with many local attractions. It’s a sunny day aside from light smog, and noise from the traffic going by on the busy street. A woman walks hand in hand with their two-year old son.
She’s excited to start her weekend shopping spree. The two of them sit down in the bus stop and wait for the oncoming bus. In order to pass time, the mother pulls out her smartphone and starts to play games.
But after a short while, the mother hears a loud crack. Startled, she looks up and realizes she’s missing something, her two-year old son. She then looks in the direction of the crack to find her two-year old son is bleeding to death underneath a white van.
Her son run out when she was not looking. He was immediately rushed to the hospital, but didn’t not make it in time, leaving the mother at the roadside weeping.
This is a true story from the Shanghai Chronicle.
And that is why I’m here today to talk to you. Why are we so hooked to our smartphones? This talk will be divided into three different parts.
- The first part is how I began studying smartphone usage.
- Second is, how do you get pulled into using your smartphone?
- And third, last but not least, our tips that you can use after this talk to have a more empowering and efficient relationship with your smartphone.
Now, it’s pretty easy to stalk someone who stares at their smartphone. Many of us have an image of someone walking across the street, unaware of the surroundings playing a game like, I don’t know, Pokémon Go? This might be funny, but it’s a different story when it happens in your own life.
Recently, I took a big financial risk. I quit my day job and went in pursuit of my entrepreneurial dreams. But it was not a yellow brick road. I actually lost money and relationships.
The more money relationships that I lost, the more time I spent on my smartphone trying to forget the reality that I lived in. But it wasn’t seconds, minutes or hours, but days where I was trying to forget who I was as a person.
That is what led me to study smartphone usage. Some people say, we’re hooked, others, dependent. Some researchers even go so far to say we are addicted. Regardless of the label, to figure out what’s really going on, let’s look at the number one smartphone using country in the world, South Korea.
In 2015, South Korea reported that it had 88% of its population as smartphone users. In addition to that stat, a government survey concluded that every South Korean child showed symptoms of smartphone addiction. To put this in perspective, how many of you know someone who’s an alcoholic?
Well, the thing is that, the National Institute of alcoholism states that one out of every 12 Americans are alcoholics, which is a lower ratio to the number of children in South Korea who have smartphone addiction. Now, what is addiction? That’s such a big word to throw around.
Well, in the science social review, a couple of researchers and their article concluded that if you have some of the following symptoms, you could have smartphone addiction. Disregard for negative consequences, chronic anxiety, or lack of impulse control.
I’m sure many of us here have a smartphone in either our pocket or our purse. And if you keep checking that during the talk, that is a lack of impulse control, which is a symptom of smartphone addiction.
Since, the United State is increasing its smartphone usage, in fact, we’re projected to hit 70% in a couple of years. It’s more imperative than ever to understand why this addiction is taking place in other countries. If we do not learn, there’s a strong possibility that we will also follow in their footsteps.
Now, how do we get pulled into using our smartphones? Well, I’m going to go over two different ways. The first one is sociological, peer pressure.
How many of you get frustrated when someone does not respond to a text message fast enough? Come on. Yeah. We all do that. Why? Because there’s a possibility that someone could respond immediately, so in a way we expect it.
And being a recipient, you want to be a good spouse, significant other, or coworker. So, what do you do? Well, you make yourself just that much more available here. That much more available there. And this perpetuates to a point where you’re literally on your phone 24/7 because you’re trying to keep up with external obligation.
You may also notice this is very common in the workplace. Managers literally have their employees on a leash because of the convenience factor of technology. Employees, now they bring their work home saying, oh, I have to take care of some 9PM emails.
What we are finding out is that moving forward some countries are fighting back. France recently announced that they are planning on banning emailing for companies of more than 50 people on the weekends. It’s funny, isn’t it?
The thing is, that they state that people have the right to disconnect. People have the right to disconnect. And that means that you also have the right to disconnect in America.
Because of the convenience factor that technology brings to our daily lives, we are expected to be more available through external obligation. Besides the peer pressure aspect, what about the neurological aspect? What happens in our brains? Well, there’s a lot of things happening.
But I’m going to go over one for the short talk. And that is through notifications. Yes, text messages, emails, or an app on your phone telling you it’s a one-degree change in the weather. And when you receive this notification, you feel good. Why? Well, a loved one just texted from across the United States, or you finally figured out that your UPS package finally arrived at your doorstep.
But underneath that happiness, the brain secretes dopamine. And instantly the brain associates dopamine with the notification creating a bond, also known as a neuro association. Therefore, when you look for that notification in the future, or rather the dopamine, you look for the notification.
And there you go round and round, notification dopamine, notification dopamine.
If the brain takes it one step further after that, it becomes desensitized. Instead of getting 5,10, 15 notifications to feel that high, you now need 20, 50 or 100. You’re essentially running a treadmill of dopamine through notifications.
Is that really that bad? I mean, sure, you’re stuck in your phone, but the more you feel good from all the dopamine hits?
Well, here’s an interesting question. How many of you tuned me off for a couple of seconds, hopefully not minutes during this talk? We do this all the time. Think of a really boring meeting. When someone uninteresting is talking, what do you do? You say, well, I’m going to tune him off for a little bit.
So, you take out your phone, you look down for a… dopamine hit. Huh.
You see, you have a rhythm where you expect a dopamine hit. And if I’m not fast enough, you tuned me out. Because you’ve adapted to the rapid stimulus of notifications from your phone, making everyday tasks such as reading, writing, or simply talking to a friend difficult.
And of all places, Microsoft Corporation supports this point of view, stating that in a digital age, our attention span has now dropped down to eight seconds.
Headlining, I kid you’re not, your attention span is less than a goldfish. Thanks Microsoft!
William Powers in this book, “Hamels blackberry” points out the caveat to this thinking, as he says, the greatest thinkers of our time who we consider geniuses were able to apply their intelligence and focus depth to their work to bear forth new ideas.
The ability to focus, to have depth is what makes life rich, intellectually, emotionally or through meaning. And quote, yes, the practicality that smartphones brings to our daily lives is phenomenal, but it comes at the price of shallow thinking. It’s not what we do in the digital world that’s so powerful, but rather outside of the digital world, were we are able to analyze and interpret the information for deeper meaning.
Unfortunately, after adapting to the rapid stimulus notifications, we are less able to focus. Now I know that sounds really scary, because now your attention span is less than a goldfish from Microsoft. So what do you do about this? Well, I put in three tips in the speech that could help out with this predicament.
The first one is, you get to play psychotherapist for a bit. Write down “Why”, why do you have to check your phone so much? Maybe you’re excited because a loved one might text you, guilty because your boss is on your back, or maybe you might want to escape.
You want to avoid that. The escape reason is an easy segue into addiction. That’s the first reason.
The second, very common advice, is turn your phone off during certain times of the day; first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening. Because smartphones have been shown to disrupt sleep cycles, or more Importantly, during moments of intellectual depth of focus. Think of lunch with a friend or dinner with your kids. Just put it away. That’s tip number two.
Tip number three is reducing the number of notifications coming to your phone. Yes, I know it feels great being a micro celebrity when your phone keeps going off in front of your friends. But honestly, no one cares except for you. What you’ll find is, as you reduce the number of notifications, the ability to focus rises in correspondence.
To review, play psychotherapists for a bit, write down why. Two, turn off your phone during certain times of the day. And three, reduce the number of notifications coming to your phone.
Going back now to Jang Xiao, China with a woman weeping on the roadside because of the death of her son. We no longer see an oblivious parent, but rather, there was a battle at hand for the mother’s attention. On one hand, her smartphone, the other, her son. In this case, the smartphone won out.
Yes, the practicality that smartphones brings to our daily lives is phenomenal, but it may come at the price of near-death behavior and the shortening of our attention spans. Some pay higher prices than others.
But as we learn to master this new technology, just like any other innovation in the past, we will be brought to new heights of achievement. And the point of this talk is to reveal this unintended consequence so you can use it as a stepping stone to those greater heights.
Some online responses to Jeff’s presentation:
Bojo David – “I had smart phone addiction. I then “upgraded” to a flip phone with no internet. Its way cheaper ($25 a month) and well I’m not as distracted anymore.”
Michael Farnolo – “This was honestly one of the greatest talks I’ve ever heard – especially because he spoke about our attention spans. I’m mad its only got 94,809 views – nobody wants to hear the truth lol it’s too difficult to face reality as it is.”
Jeff G. – “I work from home as an internet marketer and web designer. I have 7 computer screens in front of me for 7 hours a day. When I go out, I am totally unplugged. As a matter of fact, I am proud to say “I don’t have a mobile phone” and I get to enjoy “LIFE”. I’m not “Trapped by an APP”.”
Maine Individual – “It was a week ago I tossed my smart phone. Have a flip with 350 minutes a month, FREE – actually doesn’t cost me a thing. I’m ten times more focused and in the moment now then I was since I had a smart phone starting 2009. Love it!”
Ric Rovey – “Smartphones are bad for the developing brain in children. Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his children one.”
Joe Towers – “8 seconds? He’s right! Do you know how I know? I googled it on my phone!”