Shucking Oysters: Smart Phones

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Shucking Oysters: Smart Phones

Alex Allen

Smart phones make me worried about humanity. I was in Vancouver recently and I spent my entire time dodging people staring down at their gadgets completely oblivious to their surroundings. A fun act of civil disobedience would have been to merrily grab every phone as I ran down Burrard Street and tossed them with abandon off the bridge. Actually, that’s stealing and not very civil, but it would have been very fun. 

In the summer months on Hornby, we get to witness this strange phenomena daily. I see visiting teens sitting surrounded by beauty and interesting stuff staring down at their smart phones, not engaging, not seeing, just passively immersed in the glow of the screen. They could have saved themselves a lot of money by staying home. It’s the same view, after all. Couples sitting at the cafe both engrossed in whatever on their personal phones. Parents staring at their gadgets, ignoring their kids. And when I see a really young kid with a smart phone, I just think dumb parent. The modern babysitter. But what will that four-year-old be like when he’s twenty? Dumber or smarter?

A large study using data from the US National Institutes of Health found screen time was moderately associated with worse mental health, increased behaviour problems, decreased academic performance, and poorer sleep, but also found using a smart phone or device improved friendships and connection. 

“All of us are basically living in a big social experiment where smart phones have taken over,” Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University said. “In effect, we’re experimenting with their brains, ‘Hey, let’s give them all smart phones and see what happens.’”

A report from the University of Texas, with the catchy title, “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity,” found that someone’s ability to hold and process data significantly improved if their smart phone was not in the same room. Even if the phone was turned off and face down next to them, the mere sight of one’s own smart phone seemed to induce “brain drain.” 

Studies have shown that young people who shouldn’t have back and neck problems are reporting disc hernias and alignment complications due to prolonged smart phone use. Called “text neck,” our necks typically curve backward, but what they are seeing is that the curve is being reversed as people look down at their phones and text for hours every day. 

Neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin in his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, wrote, “Email, Facebook and Twitter checking constitute a neural addiction.” Each time we check social media “we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones.” Levitin warns ominously, that if everyone is spending hour after hour on their phones, scrolling through texts and time lines, then that becomes normal behaviour. “When normality becomes madness, the only way to find sanity is daring to be different.” 

I don’t own a smart phone, but I did reluctantly buy a flip phone in January. Why? Because my partner wants to know which ferry I’m getting on. Otherwise, it sits in my glove compartment gathering road dust and feeling lonely. It rang one time and I couldn’t figure out how to answer it. Do I press the green button? The arrow button? The selection button? Flipping through the 43-page manual, I couldn’t find the answer anywhere. But I did discover other things. A calculator? FM radio? Recorder? I had no idea. And then finally 20 minutes later, on page 36 under “Call settings” there it was “1. Flip to answer the call.” They could have put that in the “Get started” or “Get to know your phone” section. Exhibit A why I don’t read manuals, they are not helpful.

I’m not on Facebook either. Seven years ago I was. I had four friends (my two sisters, my sister’s husband, and my niece). The sister with the husband, was like 100 friends. Every day, pictures of her walking her dog Poppy through the bucolic fields of East Sussex; cute animal videos; articles from the Guardian and on and on. Every day. The niece posted her artwork and wanted to be liked constantly. And then trying to ignore all those people (politely) that want to be your friend. It was exhausting. As Netflix founder Reed Hastings said, “A high sharing environment is my idea of hell. That’s why I’m not on Facebook.” It took me three months to get off Facebook. Not because I was hesitant, but because they kept on asking me…are you sure? Are you really, really, sure? 

And no, I don’t miss it. Especially, the mean-spirited behaviour on our local Facebook page. (I have an informant.) The more divisive the issue, the more engagement it generates, the more time it induces people to waste their time feuding on line. I dare you all to say it in person or if not, at least be nice. 

And don’t get me wrong I am not anti-technology. I’m just concerned with social media.* I love the internet. Emailing, online banking, ordering stuff — it’s great. I just wish I had more time to read all the blogs, listen to all the pod casts, watch the documentaries, and learn how to build a sauna.  

*The best thing about social media? Uniting a lost dog with its owners after jumping off a boat at Tribune Bay.