What is my smartphone doing to me?

Many of us have discovered the benefits of smartphones. A Nielsen study from February 2012 reported smartphone penetration in the U.S. to be almost 50%. For the three-month period ending in February 2012, two-thirds of mobile purchases were smartphones. For me, I use my smartphone to check email when I’m on the go, browse the web, take photos, post to Twitter or Facebook, check in on Foursquare, text, schedule appointments, and of course, make phone calls. I’m not a big app user and most of the apps I use are from retailers, like Publix, Walgreens, Redbox, and Smoothie King.

Although smartphones are certainly beneficial to users and help to facilitate communication, researchers are starting to explore how smartphones might be detrimental to our self-esteem, relationships, and ability to entertain ourselves. Here are some issues related to smartphone use.

1. Smartphones cut us off from our surroundings. If you look at your smartphone every moment you find yourself with some downtime, you are missing an opportunity to engage with the world. The phone becomes a crutch, and instead of interacting with your environment, you are looking at your phone. Instead, practice mindfulness. Engage the world with your five senses. What do you smell? See? Hear? Perhaps you might strike up a conversation with a stranger and have an interaction that is more interesting than checking Facebook status updates.

2. Smartphones fulfill entertainment needs that could happen offline. Instead of playing a game on your smartphone, have family game night or go to a bar that offers a trivia game. Instead of watching a video on your phone, go to a concert. When we focus too much on using our phone for entertainment, we miss opportunities for offline entertainment.

3. Your smartphone may be impacting your relationships when you are present with other people. If you are taking calls, texting, or checking email while in the real-life presence of others, you are communicating to those people that they are not your priority and that something more interesting is happening with your online friends.

4. Chronic texting and Facebooking may impact your ability to engage people in meaningful conversations. Can you tell a story in more than 140 characters? If you don’t practice these skills, you will never master them. A conversation is more than just quick bursts of thought.

5. If you are using Facebook excessively, it may contribute to a condition called Facebook envy. Seeing photos of friends vacationing in fabulous places or hearing about their genius kids can become depressing. Remember that people on Facebook are often only sharing an idealized version of their lives.

In summary,  your phone should be a tool to improve your life and not your life.

If you want to read more, here is a great New York Times piece by Sherry Turkle: The Flight From Conversation

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