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The advent of smartphones made life and interaction easier

Larger text size Very large text size It wasn't too long ago that smartphones were a novelty, something the ardent tech-heads would queue up in the street to buy.

  1. With one study equating the amount of information we receive each day to 174 newspapers — and that was before smartphones — Brewer says "we're letting important, emotionally salient information slip through". Share via Email It's for you.
  2. More than half 54 percent said they check their phones while in bed, before going to sleep, upon waking and even during the night. And pretty soon, we got turned on by the additional innovation of conveying that news in text form — no need even to speak to a human being!
  3. And when the Arab Spring began rippling through the Middle East in early 2011, the smartphone quickly demonstrated itself as a powerful tool for driving social revolution.
  4. If its plot was powered by any sort of intrigue — criminal, political, sexual — it would be unthinkable were the characters not to interact virtually, and probably, given the relative novelty of the device, crucially so. There is value from having time out from the information overload and reconnecting to our internal world, she says.

But now we must go to the ends of the earth to escape them. Eddie Jim Blackwell, who uses a work mobile as well as her own smartphone at home in Sydney, found it liberating. With no prospect of connecting to the internet, people made personal connections the priority. There was nothing to distract them. More than 80 per cent of Australians have one; only 4 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds don't. Advertisement We use them to email, take photos, check social media, listen to music, surf the internet, find directions, watch movies.

We even use our smartphones to use our smartphones less, installing apps that monitor and limit our activity. The names and popularity of such apps reflect a growing desire for time out from the technology that was supposed to make life easier. With a tagline of "Put your phone down and get back to your life", it has been downloaded 2.

Smartphones "make us individually available to one another", he says, helping us co-ordinate busy lives and encouraging social cohesion within small groups. But they have their downsides. Ling notes it's harder to operate socially if we forget our phone or the battery dies.

How Smartphones Revolutionized Society in Less than a Decade

And given the expectation that we should be accessible at all times, he says we are "in a small way shirking our social responsibility" if we are not. The pressure to be constantly available and responsive on social media can cause depression, anxiety and decrease sleep quality for teenagers, according to University of Glasgow researchers.

It's not just teens feeling that way. Thirty per cent of those surveyed for the latest EY Digital Australia: State of the Nation report said their smartphone or tablet negatively affected their sleep or stress. Thirty-one per cent felt "addicted" to their device — a figure that rose to 46 per cent among 18 to 34-year-olds. And still we are loath to switch them off.

Mobile phones have changed the world, for better or worse

There's even a word — nomophobia — for the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. He says going online is like playing the pokies — "You never know what you're going to find, and you never know how good it's going to be".

The smartphone's ability to give you want you want instantly, and its incessant notifications, make it especially hard to resist. Greenfield calls it "digital crack". Primitive biological responses partly explain the allure of the technology.

Mobile technology: The amazing impact on our lives

Like other types of dependence, internet addiction involves the neurochemical dopamine, which is related to reward-motivated behaviour. When the pleasure is variable, you're more likely to do it in a compulsive manner. He has treated hundreds of patients whose relationships, work or study suffered, or who ran into financial or legal trouble.

Because digital technology is almost impossible to avoid, treatment focuses on mindful or controlled use. Greenfield points out that, unlike other forms of media, there are no natural boundaries to internet consumption, no markers for the beginning and end. Researchers are increasingly looking at how smartphones, as a source of infinite distraction, interfere with our mental functioning and social relationships.

  1. More than 80 per cent of Australians have one; only 4 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds don't.
  2. But now we must go to the ends of the earth to escape them. Like other types of dependence, internet addiction involves the neurochemical dopamine, which is related to reward-motivated behaviour.
  3. And it's undermining our capacity to have meaningful conversations, says Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  4. Among younger users — ages 18 to 29 — more than 40 percent report feeling ignored.

In the US, studies have found that iPhone separation anxiety has a negative effect on our cognitive ability and that media multitasking — something smartphones enable to an unprecedented degree — has been associated with symptoms of depression and social anxiety. The late Clifford Nass, who was a psychology professor at Stanford University, said chronic multitaskers are terrible at a range of cognitive tasks including — funnily enough — multitasking.

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He described them as "mental wrecks". Our phones remind us there's a world beyond our immediate social sphere; that something, somewhere, is happening without us. Checking your phone during a social encounter is the equivalent of talking to someone while looking over their shoulder to see who else is in the room. Ling says we check our phones automatically, without thinking.

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We use them to fend off boredom at the checkout or waiting for a bus. At the same time, it "pulls us out of the public sphere. It is an easy out if. So even though we're physically present, our attachment to our phones means we're often mentally absent. And it's undermining our capacity to have meaningful conversations, says Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, she argues digital interaction is harming our ability to converse face to face and reducing our capacity for empathy. She recommends banishing devices from the dinner table, the car, the kitchen — "sacred spaces for conversation".

Sydney psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says when you have a healthy relationship with technology, you don't have to force yourself offline to find peace.

Smartphones are ruling our lives and killing our imaginations

She created the Digital Nutrition framework to promote balanced, mindful use of technology, so we can "keep it as a really great servant and not let it become our master". Brewer says our memories and creativity can be affected by the digital onslaught. With one study equating the amount of information we receive each day to 174 newspapers — and that was before smartphones — Brewer says "we're letting important, emotionally salient information slip through".

There is value from having time out from the information overload and reconnecting to our internal world, she says. But he says no app can force you to put down your device.