5 Ways Your Phone Is Secretly Destroying Your Life

We promise we're not going to lecture you about how smartphones are evil.
5 Ways Your Phone Is Secretly Destroying Your Life

We promise that we're not going to lecture you about how smartphones are evil and society used to be better off in the good old days, when if you got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, you just laid down and died, as God intended. Hell, this entire article was typed on a phone in between Pokemon encounters. But because we use our phones so much, there are a few issues we should try to look out for. Such as ...

Excessive Smartphone Use Makes You A Distant Parent

Any parent could tell you that toddlers are full of whiny demands like "I need food" or "I need love" or "I need you to rescue me from this rabid dog." Smartphones offer parents a reprieve from the stresses of child-rearing, but study after study suggests those reprieves need to be taken in moderation, unless you want to raise a child who's more attached to Fortnite than you.

For starters, infants and toddlers were found to be more emotionally distressed and less likely to explore their environments when their mothers were on their phones. In fact, excessive phone use was considered a form of "maternal withdrawal and unresponsiveness."

That problem continues into tweenhood, where 32 percent of children aged eight to 13 reported feeling unimportant when their parents used their phones during dinner, conversations, and other family occasions, and over half the children in the study felt that their parents used their phones too much in general. Another study suggested that kids were more likely to act out to get the attention of a phone-using parent, while the parents were more likely to be irritable in their responses, feeding a negative cycle.

...Many of the children described themselves as sad, mad, angry, and lonely when their parents were on their devices. Several young children report
Psychology Today
One with a frankly unsurprising end.

We're not implying that your children will grow up to be emotionally stunted criminals if you check your phone too many times during their band recital, but it is important to set clear boundaries, and leave your phone alone during family game night.

Related: 5 Dirty Tricks Apple Uses To Get You To Buy A New iPhone

Screen Time Gives Young Children No Educational Benefits

Studies have found a worrying correlation between screen time and delays in expressive speech development. You don't need to eschew all technology and park your toddler in front of some Chaucer tomes every day, but children under the age of five have been found to gain nothing from screen time, even if it's a supposedly educational app or video. They simply don't take anything away from what's on a screen, unless a parent is there to help them contextualize it. So making a phone or tablet the go-to solution for your child's boredom or crankiness stunts their ability to handle those emotions. Ideally, children between two and five should only have an hour of supervised screen time a day, and children under two should have no screen time at all.

Also, be wary of YouTube's kids section. If you're not a parent or a sex offender, you might not be familiar with YouTube Kids. It's an endless parade of bright lights and weird noises fired into children's eyes and ears at a breakneck pace. Creators carefully analyze YouTube data to make videos that receive maximum attention from children. But what keeps children in a stupor and what actually teaches them anything are very different.

Children need videos that move slowly and have few extraneous distractions flying around; otherwise it's like expecting them to learn math from Sesame Street while Bert and Ernie duel over an exploding volcano in the background. There's also the fear that if toddlers get used to videos being paced like a cocaine simulation, actual educational programming will fail to hold their interest.

For example, this brain-rotting hour of flashing lights is pushing 1.6 billion views -- five times Sesame Street's top video.

Related: The 5 Most Horribly Irresponsible Smart Phone Apps

Navigational Apps Keep You From Forming Mental Maps

If we asked you to give us directions to the workplace you visit five times a week, and then asked you to give us directions to that sex dungeon you went to once five years ago, the former would be way easier, right? You know all the landmarks and road signs. You have a "cognitive map" of the route, which is the fancy science way of saying that you've memorized it. You probably have a decent cognitive map of where you live in general -- the major roads, the quickest way to the best fried chicken place, how to make it look like you're coming home from the chicken place instead of the sex dungeon, and so on.

But there's clear evidence that navigational apps are eroding our cognitive maps. If you can plug an address into your phone and have it guide you through a good route, there's no particular need to know how all the different roads in town connect. There are strong correlations between heavy smartphone use and poor performance on navigational tasks. This can be a problem if, say, your phone's navigation is wrong and it leads you right into a disastrous situation. If you don't realize that something is wrong, you'd be surprised how far off-course you'd be willing to let your phone take you. Just look at the phenomenon of "death by GPS."

For example, without a GPS saying otherwise, most people would've recognized that this wasn't a road.

The long-term consequences of this are still up in the air. But the fact that phones are changing how our brains work is one thing that app developers need to keep in mind going forward, assuming they haven't programmed their phones to remind them. One proposed compromise has been to develop map apps that teach the user about the location they're in, instead of merely guiding them. Either way, it's good to have a backup plan in case of a forgotten phone / dead battery / bad internet connection / EMP attack, so maybe try to pay a little more attention to the road sometimes.

Related: 7 Ways Your Cellphone Is Screwing With Your Body And Mind

Social Media Apps Make Us Sad And Anxious

Increased use of social media has been associated with increased feelings of envy and anxiety, as well as a decrease in physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction. Yet we seem to keep using the apps that we know make us unhappy. The average person spends 27 minutes a day on each social networking app, while only nine minutes are devoted to apps focused on reading, health, relaxation, and other tasks that make us feel good.

Passive use (as in, mindless scrolling) seems to be the problem here. If you're hopping on Facebook to post a status update or message a friend, that's active use, and it fulfills a specific purpose. But if you're just zoning out in front of an endless parade of vacation pics and stories about suicide bombings, you're making yourself feel worse, even if you're not aware of it.

5 Ways Your Phone Is Secretly Destroying Your Life
Carl Court/Getty Images
And good luck if you decide to let this monster into your home.

Related: 6 Shocking Ways Your iPhone Is Destroying The Planet

Just Having A Phone Around Harms Meaningful Conversation

How many conversations have stumbled to an awkward halt because the other person was dicking around on their phone and contributing nothing but "uh-huh" or "wow" or "So you killed him, huh? Great." No, phones aren't singlehandedly killing the subtle art of conversation, and sometimes they're great for getting us out of unwanted talks. But everyone seems to agree that a phone's presence in a conversation can lower the quality of it. Which is fine if you're killing time while waiting for your Uber, but less than ideal if you're trying to pour your heart out to someone who really wants to watch a GIF of a penguin tripping over and over again.

Even having a phone on the table can be a problem, because it sends the message that its owner has no objections to being interrupted or creating an interruption themselves. So the conversation will change accordingly, as you may not want to bring up a serious issue with someone who's maybe going to take a call or pound out a quick round of Candy Crush. Plus, studies suggest that conversations without the presence of phones, either on the table or in use, were rated as both far superior and more empathetic. Uninterrupted conversations are generally just better, because participants get the sense that the other person really wants to dedicate themselves to it. It also forces us to improve at having conversations -- if you always have the option of retreating to your phone, then a valuable life skill remains underdeveloped.

This doesn't mean that you should put your phone away on the bus and strike up a political debate with a total stranger. God, no. Never do that. But try to keep it in your pants when hanging out with friends and family members. The one exception to this is the use of your phone to read Cracked articles out loud to other people, as study after study finds that this makes you look both highly educated and sexually irresistible. So do that whenever possible.

Mark is on Twitter, but you shouldn't be using that much so check out his book.

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