Fairlady - - SCREEN TIME -

No one has been more in­flu­enced and shaped by the rise of the smart­phone than the gen­er­a­tion of kids born be­tween 1998 and 2016, known as Gen­er­a­tion Z, or iGen. Un­like mil­len­ni­als, they don’t re­mem­ber a time be­fore the in­ter­net, and have grown up in an era de­fined by its tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances. For them, the hall­marks of adult­hood have shifted: get­ting a driver’s li­cence is no longer a sym­bol of free­dom – you can just Uber. Teens are also no longer urged to get part­time jobs, but to fo­cus on their stud­ies in­stead, as higher ed­u­ca­tion is val­ued more highly in this in­for­ma­tion age than build­ing a work his­tory.


Ac­cord­ing to the au­thors of a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence, smart­phones have be­come a type of ‘ex­ter­nal mem­ory source’. There’s no need to mem­o­rise facts or phone num­bers – they’re a Google search or scroll through your con­tact list away. And learn­ing a skill like chang­ing a tyre? There’s a YouTube video for that. ‘[Our study’s] re­sults sug­gest that pro­cesses of hu­man mem­ory are adapt­ing to the ad­vent of new com­put­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy,’ the au­thors write. ‘We’re be­com­ing sym­bi­otic with our com­puter tools, grow­ing into in­ter­con­nected sys­tems that re­mem­ber less by know­ing in­for­ma­tion than by know­ing where the in­for­ma­tion can be found.’

In her TED Talk en­ti­tled ‘We Are All Cy­borgs Now’, Am­ber Case, a cy­ber-an­thro­pol­o­gist and CEO of mo­bile plat­form Ge­oloqi, ar­gues that smart­phones have be­come a ‘dig­i­tal ex­ten­sion of our­selves’.

‘This is the first time in the en­tire his­tory of hu­man­ity that we’ve con­nected in this way,’ she says. ‘It’s not that ma­chines are tak­ing over. It’s that they’re help­ing us to be more hu­man, help­ing us con­nect with each other.’

But the re­verse is also true. Pew Re­search’s 2014 study ‘Cou­ples, the In­ter­net and So­cial Me­dia’, found that about 25% of mar­ried or part­nered re­spon­dents found their sig­nif­i­cant other’s phone use ‘dis­tract­ing’, while over 40% of 18- to 29-year-olds re­ported feel­ing ig­nored.

The con­stant use of cell­phones can also have se­ri­ous long-term ef­fects, es­pe­cially when it comes to teens, whose brains are still form­ing. A re­cent study found that our at­ten­tion spans are now just eight sec­onds long – less than that of a gold­fish!

‘What’s even scarier,’ write Emma and Lizzie, ‘is that sci­en­tists are demon­strat­ing that so much frag­men­ta­tion of at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially when you’re younger, can per­ma­nently re­duce your ca­pac­ity to pay at­ten­tion. Per­ma­nently.’ Lack of sleep and mul­ti­task­ing, both side­ef­fects of smart­phone use, can lead to a 10-15 point drop in IQ. Not only that, be­ing on your phone all the time can even lower your EQ. ‘We no longer do things face to face, so we don’t read body lan­guage, in­ter­pret fa­cial ex­pres­sions or see emo­tion, as we re­ally should,’ write Emma and Lizzie. ‘In­stead, we rely on dig­i­tal in­ter­ac­tions.’


Those hours of bore­dom from your child­hood were ac­tu­ally use­ful, long term. ‘We day­dreamed and played “imag­ine, imag­ine” to our heart’s con­tent…’ write Emma and Lizzie. ‘Turns out this day­dream­ing and space-cadet time was in­cred­i­bly valu­able for our cre­ativ­ity. So us­ing your phone 24/7 to fill ev­ery dull mo­ment is ham­per­ing your abil­ity to think out of the box and be an in­no­va­tor.’

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