Outsmarting the smartphones

HAVE we all become like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the touch of a mobile phone, Xbox, or laptop?

The answer would appear to be a decided yes, or ‘yeah, whatever’, depending on your demographic.

More worryingly, as our report on the phenomenon today reveals, the hi-tech industry has seen dollar signs in this new form of addiction and has shown a determination to dream up new devices to make us even more dependent on their products. And, as with many other businesses, they are targeting the young.

This may be shocking but it is hardly surprising. Big business will always find ways to stay big, even in the teeth of huge opposition. The tobacco industry is a prime example, targeting young people to replace the 50% of their customers who will die of smoking related illnesses.

Surfing the internet, engaging in online gaming, or texting with a smartphone is not as immediately physically harmful as smoking or drinking alcohol to excess yet it poses its own dangers.

In the US, this form of virtual addiction has been given a name: nomophobia (an abbreviation of no mobile phobia); the fear that being away from your phone somehow disconnects you from the world.

Most parents will be aware of the dangers posed by online sexual predators and may take steps to ensure the safety of their children. What they may not realise is that spending hours on the internet or a mobile phone is, in itself, a disorder that needs to be recognised and addressed.

Although it does not involve the use of an intoxicating drug, it is similar to pathological gambling in the psychological effects it can have on young minds, in particular.

No matter how enjoyable it is to engage with others on the internet, it is no substitute for the real thing. Human beings are social animals and we all need physical as well as emotional contact with others. Human interaction helps a child to develop emotionally in a way that communicating with a smartphone cannot. No matter how much you hug a laptop, it will never hug you back.

How can we outsmart our smartphones and regain control over our own lives? There is no equivalent to a nicotine patch to help you wean yourself off the internet, but the answer may be simpler than we think. Some of the most tech-savvy societies are also the ones that have recognised this problem. In South Korea, educators were horrified at the growing gap between digital and physical interaction among 10-year-olds. The government there now requires schools to teach classes on internet addiction and organised tech-free days and summer camps for primary and secondary school pupils.

The results surpassed all expectations, with the children learning in a real and tangible way the value of play and interacting physically with their fellow students.

Adults can do the same. Take a hike or a walk in the park. Have no-phone nights with friends and family and rediscover the joy of human interaction. There is no reason why your smartphone should be smarter than you are.


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