The smart­phone twitch

The Western Star - - Editorial -

Try it at a party some time. Take your smart phone out of your pocket, as if you’ve just felt the gen­tle vi­bra­tion of an ar­riv­ing text. But don’t even wake it up — if you turn the phone on, you might get dis­tracted and miss the whole point of the ex­er­cise.

No, look at your blank phone for a mo­ment or two, and then slide it back into your pocket or purse. Then watch.

No mat­ter how en­gag­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, no mat­ter how close and en­joy­able your friends are, you’ll see the other phones sneak out. And un­til they do, it’s sur­pris­ing how un­com­fort­able and twitchy your friends will be­come.

It’s not uni­ver­sal, of course: there are those among us who have yet to be in­doc­tri­nated into the brother­hood and sis­ter­hood of the en­dor­phin phone rush. Heck, there are still flip-phones around oc­ca­sion­ally, and in­di­vid­u­als with the strength to re­sist the urge.

But it’s fewer and fewer ev­ery day.

We’ve built an im­pres­sive tech­nol­ogy — one that can get our at­ten­tion dur­ing al­most any wak­ing hour, even if we nei­ther en­joy what we’re see­ing or take any real plea­sure in be­ing con­stantly up to date.

We’re ad­dicted to that lit­tle rush, as much as we might de­spise be­ing tied to the In­ter­net world. Close to one in eight Amer­i­cans al­ready has a demon­stra­ble In­ter­net ad­dic­tion, and the num­bers are grow­ing.

Go on your phone and look up In­ter­net or elec­tronic ad­dic­tion, and you will see reams of in­for­ma­tion — gotcha! You’re look­ing at your phone again, right? Feel­ing the itch?

Then look at teens and 20-year-olds — they’re in con­stant con­tact with their phones and the In­ter­net, to the point that they lit­er­ally can­not func­tion with­out them. You can only imag­ine how stressed young­sters must be at the very idea of phone-free schools, an idea that’s grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. Chil­dren and even ba­bies are be­ing in­tro­duced to phones and tablets as dis­trac­tive de­vices at an in­cred­i­bly early age — sure, it’s a learn­ing tool, but it’s also a crutch.

Be­hav­ioral sci­en­tist ar­gue that we’re re­pro­gram­ming our brains, that we’re train­ing our­selves to want a jolt of news or in­for­ma­tion or just plain con­tact ev­ery few sec­onds — and that the rewiring is dif­fi­cult to change, es­pe­cially when smart phones and other elec­tron­ics are in­te­gral to fam­ily or­ga­ni­za­tion and con­tact. You can’t sim­ply choose to opt out.

But here’s a ques­tion, not only about what we’re do­ing to our­selves, but about how that change in brain chemistry can be ex­ploited in the fu­ture — are we sow­ing the seeds for all sorts of ad­dic­tive is­sues later?

The way we’re chang­ing our brains, and the way that brain chemistry toys with us, leaves us par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to any­thing from video gam­bling de­vices to mar­ket­ing that can play on the new path­ways we’re build­ing.

For us right now, smart­phones could be seen as a threat. But for some­one else, they may well be a dan­ger­ous op­por­tu­nity.

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