How Smartphones Could Be Damaging Your Mind

Photo of many driving a car with one hand on the steering wheel the other holding up his cell phoneSmartphones could be damaging your mind.

That's a crazy claim, isn't it?

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I'm sure you've noticed how intensely focused we all are on our Smartphones.

If it dings, buzzes or vibrates, or lights up; we stop what we're doing to see who it is.

Come on now. Be honest.

You know you do it too, right?

I confess that as much as I get upset when I see others doing dumb things with the phones, I'm guilty of it at times myself.

We know it's dangerous to us in many ways physically (texting and driving, texting and walking, etc.)

How about mentally? Is there evidence it damages us mentally?

That's what I want us to explore in this post.

Hang on to your seat. It may be a rough ride.

The physical dangers

Here are some recent facts about the physical damage improper use of cell phones causes. Click to Tweet

The data comes from the NTSB (National Traffic Safety Board) via the DMV website. The year cited is 2015.

Image of car wreck with stats on injuries and deaths from distracted driving

That got my attention for sure.

I've heard arguments and seen statistics saying that the number of injuries and deaths from texting is now higher than drunk driving.

But that's hard to prove.

Injuries and deaths from drunk driving are measurable by testing blood alcohol levels.

Unfortunately, there's no way to know for sure whether someone in an accident was distracted by texting another means.

If you drive anywhere, you can easily observe how many people are on their cell phones. I mean, it's unbelievable.

In my area, which is a densely populated by mostly upwardly mobile professionals, I'd say it's an epidemic.

Not scientific. It's what I see every time I drive somewhere.

Real life story

One of my clients survived a terrifying car accident. We know the cause of this was the driver that hit him texting. Witnesses told the police that was the case.

Here's what happened.

My client was sitting at a stop sign waiting to turn left on to a four-lane major road. The double lanes on either side had a median separating the two.

When he got the green light, he entered the highway. John's (not his real name) Dodge Ram pickup truck crossed into the intersection.

As soon as he did, a triaxle dump truck, horn blaring, blew through the stop light with a full load of stone and plowed into the driver's side of John's pickup.

The dump truck was going so fast that it flipped on its side dumping its load all over the place.

My client, though injured, was fortunate.

The truck did not hit him directly on the driver's door. The hit was just in front of that.

He told me if he would have been eighteen inches further into the intersection, he would have died.

As it was, he broke some ribs, had some internal bleeding and spent a couple of days in the hospital.

I now drive with my eyes wide open looking for distracted drives.

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Distracted walking

Seriously? Do we have to talk about people walking and texting? Yes, indeed we do. Click to Tweet

According to reports in this Reader's Digest article, there are 11,000 pedestrian injuries every year! And the NTSB says there were 5,376 pedestrian deaths.

Like with distracted driving, it's hard to pin down whether the cause was texting or other distractions. Many of the deaths were pedestrians hit by cars.

Was the person walking texting? Or was it the driver? It's hard to tell. Would you want to enter into an argument with anyone taking the side that texting distractions haven't increased accidents, injuries, and deaths?

I know I wouldn't. I'd lose.

It's kind of the chicken and egg argument. Does it matter which one came first? Does it matter whether the driver or pedestrian was texting?

Either way, it's causing problems.

The following video is funny. That is until you stop and think about what it means.

So, enjoy or be worried when you watch. I did both!

Smartphones and attention

Do smartphones affect our brains and concentration?

Here's a quote from an AARP article that spells it out for us.

“Yes, your suspicions have been confirmed by science: A growing fixation on video screens large and small, and the constantly changing images and messages these screens provide, may be altering how our brains work.”

Distracted people (all of us) think they are good at multitasking. There's one major problem with that premise – it's scientifically proven to be inaccurate. (see Can Humans Multitask?)

So, why do we believe we can?

A study by researchers at the University of Utah says that people don't multitask because they're good at it. They do it, “because they are more distracted. They have trouble inhibiting the impulse to do another activity.”

Ouch.

The study goes on to say that people associate multitasking with higher productivity. The data say it has nothing to do with that.Click to Tweet

As the quote says, it's because we can't focus on the task at hand.

Smartphones and relationships

Have you ever noticed what those seated around you in a restaurant are doing? Are they having conversations with one another face to face? Or are their heads buried in their phones? More times than not, more people's eyes are on their phone screens.

I've noticed that when people talk to each other in that environment,  they're talking about what they're reading on their phones. And I must confess. My wife and I are guilty of it too.

Do you think this behavior has an impact on our relationship with one another?

Of course, it does.

If you're married, have you been frustrated when trying to talk to your spouse while they are on their phone? I know I have. And I know she has too. You'd think as much as it ticks me off when she does it, I'd pay attention when she talks to me.

Sometimes I do. If I'm honest, most times I don't.

The dating scene

Modern day dating is crazy to me.

I've talked to parents with adult children who tell me their kid do their dating online. First of all, that's crazy to me. But I get it. That's the way we meet people these days.

Here's where it gets weird for me. I hear that the preferred method of communication is via text.

So, two people considering whether to go out with one another spend hours (not necessarily in one sitting) texting one another.

I realize I'm old school. But for crying out loud- PICK UP THE PHONE AND TALK TO ONE ANOTHER!!

How can a relationship start off healthily when the first time you talk is when you meet wherever your texting conversation tells you.

Here's my point. We're losing the ability to talk to each other without electronics.

Research shows this to be true.

A 2015  Psychology Today article cites a Brigham Young University study that interviewed 143 married women. They say that in the past, the top three issues that caused problems in relationships were sex, money, and kids.

The study now says the following:

“The study included 143 married or cohabiting women, the majority of whom reported that phones, computers, and other technology devices were significantly disruptive in their relationships, couplehood and family lives. Specifically, higher levels of technoference were associated with greater relationship conflict and lower relationship satisfaction.”

How about that?

Spend some time on Google searching for how phones and addiction to them are changing people and culture.

What can we do?

Here are three things to consider:

  1. Dedicated talk time – If you're married or in a relationship with someone, set aside a time every day to talk. That means the phones get turned off or at least removed from your pockets, purses and the table where your sitting. It's just you and the other person. For Cathy and me, that's dinner. Every night we have dinner without distractions from electronics. We turn the ringers off and leave them in the other room. Do whatever works for you.
  2. Personal quiet time –  Carve out your own quiet time every day. Whether you spend it meditating, praying, reading, or just sitting quietly, take time for yourself. My time is first thing in the morning. That's when I have my time alone with God in devotion and prayer. You can find your version of this. You may have to start with ten or fifteen minutes. That's fine. Start slow, and it gets easier. It's important to shut down and take time to be quiet.
  3. Eating out – One of our favorite places for breakfast near us has a sign on the wall that I love: We don't have WiFi. Talk to somebody!  Commit that when you, your spouse, significant other, your friends, or even coworkers go out, you'll stay off your phones. Seriously. You can do it. You might learn something about each other you never knew. Wouldn't that be fun?

Do these seem unrealistic or do they make you uncomfortable? If so, you probably need them more than you think. Start with the one that seems easiest first. Add the other two one at a time.

These are small things. But if you're not taking time to do something that gets you away from your electronics, you're increasing your stress levels and may be creating problems for yourself and your loved ones.

Final thoughts

Lest you think I'm preaching to you in this post, I'm not. I'm speaking as much, if not more, to myself as any of you reading this. I love what smartphones have brought us. We have a world of information at our fingertips. And we can connect with people from around the globe every day for pennies.

Appropriately used, these electronics are fantastic. Like a lot of things, though, too much of a good thing can be harmful. When I look around, I see too many people putting themselves in danger with their phones. No one in this day and age should be talking on the phone in the car using their hands. The reality is, we shouldn't be talking and driving at all. But if we're going to do it (and of course most of us are), be hands-free!

If your car is older and doesn't have Bluetooth built-in, headphones are cheap these days. It drives me crazy to see someone driving their shiny late-model luxury car with a phone to their ear. Don't put people in danger! I'm going to try to follow my advice and do more of the three things I laid out earlier. Two out of three I'm already doing most of the time.

The restaurant piece, not so much. If I can get my wife to agree, we'll work on that one too.

I hope you'll consider some of what I've offered here. Like many things in life, balance is essential. With cell phones, it's more than just a good thing to do. It could save your marriage, your friendships, even your life (no texting and driving!).

Now it's your turn. How is your smartphone use? Do you use it wisely? Are you, like me, guilty of doing some of the things listed? Are you willing to try and moderate your usage? Let me know in the comments below. If I've ticked you off with this post, don't hold back. I truly value and read all the feedback.

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