A group of friends out to dinner pick up their phones and begin texting instead of conversing with each other. The driver of the car next to you sneaks furtive glances at his phone while at a red traffic light—or even begins furiously typing away. While at the workplace, employees check their smartphones every few hours—or every few minutes—hampering their ability to complete their tasks. Perhaps you’ve witnessed such scenarios occurring. Perhaps you’ve been the guilty party. Smartphones have drastically changed the way modern individuals—and society as a whole—function, for better or for worse. When controlled, smartphones can be useful, but when mismanaged—as they often are—they hinder the health and safety, self-discipline, and social health of their users.
Smartphones can damage the health of or endanger the safety of their users. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, distracted driving kills at least 9 and injures over 1,000 people every day. The leading cause of teenage deaths in the United States is texting while driving. Taking your eyes off of the road for even a few seconds poses great risk not only to you, but also to every other driver around you. But it’s not just irresponsible driving that’s affecting the safety of phone users. According to CNN, “A study of pedestrians in midtown Manhattan found that 42\% of those who entered traffic during a "Don't Walk" signal were talking on a cell phone, wearing headphones or looking down at an electronic device. A 2013 study found a tenfold increase in injuries related to pedestrians using cell phones from 2005 to 2010.” Waiting until it’s safe to answer a call or text will not kill you—on the contrary, it may save your life. Besides posing the more serious risks of distracted driving and walking, smartphones also jeopardize one’s health in less hazardous—but just as troubling—ways. “Text neck,” which is the pain in one’s neck that results from looking down for a prolonged period of time; poor posture; sleep deprivation; and short attention spans are all results of excessive phone usage. Poor posture affects one’s spine, respiratory system, and even cognitive functions in later life. Sleep deprivation results from the disruption of production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, caused by the blue light emitted by smartphone screens. Phone usage while driving or walking can put you in immediate danger, while prolonged usage anywhere can cause long-term harm.
Smartphones often exert an unhealthy influence over their users, bringing about a lack of self-control that can lead to more serious long-term problems. Many treat their phones like oxygen: they eagerly drink it all in as they scan the screen—and suffocate when the precious substance is removed. Smartphone users pounce on their devices whenever a “ping” is emitted—and even if no such sound is heard, they feel compelled to look all the same. Smartphone addiction—as hyperbolic as that may sound—is a real issue. In her book The Power of Off, Nancy Colier states, “Most people now check their smartphones 150 times per day...46 percent of smartphone users say that their devices are something they “couldn’t live without.” ” Short attention spans and lack of focus have been shown to be an effect of smartphone addiction. A study has shown that keeping one’s smartphone on one’s desk while working or studying hampers one’s ability to focus on the task at hand. Even if the phone is in one’s pocket and out of the way, it still distracts, albeit to a lesser degree. Smartphones and virtually ever-present internet condition consumers to expect instant gratification, and when the phones freeze, when the high-speed WiFi slows down, and when there’s no response to a text sent five seconds ago, users become impatient and agitated. This obsession with instant gratification extends to such mundane tasks as homework. More and more teachers are expressing their concerns about students’ tendency to search up homework answers on the internet instead of taking the time to figure them out themselves. Jack Gambill, an accounting lecturer at Eastern Washington University, said, “They rely too heavy on [technology] rather than trying to think out the problems.” Also, lack of understanding of material often comes back to bite students later on. Gambill remarked, “When you walk out of this university, [employers] are going to expect you to know [the material]. You may not be able to Google it.” The wealth of information that the internet and personal electronic devices have put at our fingertips may be a boon, but it can also be detrimental.
Smartphone apps, especially social media apps, can negatively affect the social health of their users—especially when those users are teenagers. Social media has its benefits; however, its disadvantages far outweigh its advantages. Social media can contribute to cyberbullying, depression, and even suicide. 52\% of students—and some adults—report that they have been the target of cyberbullying on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Studies have shown that victims of bullying are twice as likely to experience depression and more likely to commit suicide than those who have not been bullied. However, even those not victimized on social media can still be subject to smartphone-related depression. Social media presents a distorted view of reality; obsessive viewing of the many edited photographs of models, celebrities, and even peers leads to body image insecurity. Social media posts are often whitewashed in some way or another in order to give the impression of a picture-perfect, completely “Instagram-worthy” life—and such posts take their toll. “I was spending a lot of time stalking models on Instagram, and I worried a lot about how I looked,” said Nina Langton, a teenager who became addicted to her smartphone, entered a period of depression, and attempted to commit suicide. Thankfully, not all the damage smartphones inflict on social health is so severe—but it is still there. Whether it’s sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, riding the bus, or even eating at a restaurant with friends or a date, smartphones seem to be the refuge that one clambers into whenever placed in unfamiliar surroundings—or simply whenever conversation stalls. Instead of striking up conversations with fellow patients or passengers, one squints at a tiny screen and pretends that the living, thinking, breathing human beings sitting nearby do not exist—and the favor is usually returned. Instead of chatting away with friends and family during mealtimes, 47\% of millennials admit to focusing on their handheld devices. Depression and suicide are alarming effects of smartphone overuse, but social isolation is also a common impact.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed smartphone addiction. Perhaps you’re a smartphone addict yourself. Like many things, use in moderation is not harmful and may even be beneficial. However, smartphones are a real temptation for students who ought to be studying, for adults who ought to be working, and for friends and family who ought to be talking. Smartphones can cause real physical, disciplinary, and social damage to their users. As such, one must exercise caution and self-control when using them. When out to dinner with friends, converse with them. When on the road, place your smartphone out of reach and out of sight. When at work, focus on your tasks, not your texts. Smartphones are cruel masters, and you should not let them rule your life.