We have just returned from an amazing trip to a foreign country and I have bad news: I saw as many people glued to their smart phones there as I see in the U.S. On the one hand, you might argue that that’s a good thing, because it shows we live in a global, connected world. I say it’s a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that has us all glued to our phones, but we should have another fear instead: the consequences of staring at our small screens.
What does it matter that we have home security systems and fancy car locks and smoke detectors if the real risk to our safety is the phone in the palm of our hand? Because if you look at the research, those phones are causing accidents and even deaths—and they would be less of a threat if we could simply put them away sometimes.
Let’s start with the obvious ones: accidents
We’ve all heard we shouldn’t text and drive, and it’s illegal to do so in many states. But still people do it, causing 1.6 million accidents per year. If that number doesn’t scare you, how about these statistics:3,500 people were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2015, and another 391,000 were injured. Still not scared? How about this: 11 teenagers die every single day due to texting and driving. (You can find a whole lot more scary texting while driving statistics here.)
And it’s not just teenagers who are guilty of the crime. Nor is it just car accidents that are a regular occurrence due to smart phones. This short video demonstrates just how dangerous it is to walk down the street while on your phone. (Do you see the guerilla??) When people are on their phones while walking, they walk into walls, into fountains, into a loose bear, out into the street where they are hit by cars, or even right off a pier requiring a Coast Guard rescue. (I am not making any of this up!)
And then there’s our health
If reading that section above didn’t make you want to spend a little less time with your smart phone, let’s talk about the consequences on our physical well-being. Smart phone use is bad for our eyes, our posture, and our sleep. People who spend a lot of time on their smart phones are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, pain, muscle spasms, and chronic diseases. We can get eye strain and even dry eye syndrome. Our necks are bent down and our arms are uplifted in unnatural ways for long periods of time. That’s gotta hurt at some point! And bright phone screens suppress melatonin levels, making it harder to go to sleep.
Finally, our mental and social health
Spending so much time on our phones is dangerous as we drive and walk. It’s bad for our physical well-being. And, ironically, it’s bad for our mental and social health too. Kids and teenagers disconnect from the world around them—we’ve all witnessed that. But adults can do the same when too caught up in those tiny screens. Heavy duty cell phone use also reduces our brain activity and makes it harder to pay attention, either to a task at hand or to a conversation. Socially, we’ve seen a huge increase in depression and suicides among teens, and convincing research links those increases at least in part to smart phone usage because of social media.
I am as thankful for my phone as the next person. I can keep up with my kids, find my way to a restaurant, check the weather, and stay on top of work email when out of the office. With some apps, I have no choice but to use my phone—like if I need to buy a train ticket. But we all must be aware that there is a time and a place to have that phone out and our attention focused on that, and a time and a place to be focused on what’s going on in the world around us—no matter where in the world we live.