Smart phones have completely taken over lives because they hit, or seem to hit, two basic desires of most humans: 1) To make our lives more convenient and 2) To quieten our incessant mind chatter. They're not entirely successful with the second point, of which more later. But credit, where credit's due. There's no doubting the convenience factor of having a smart phone in one's pocket and there's no need ever to be bored on a train again.

But it's not all good, is it? We all know we're addicted, right?

It's usually a sign that you have an unhealthy relationship with something when you do it compulsively. Few things are more compulsive, for most people, than reaching for their smart phone as soon as they're alone for more than 30 seconds. 

Why does this matter? Well, there are a few reasons.

The first, and most simple, point is that reaching for your phone because you have a compulsion, rather than a good reason, to do so could have two common results: you viewing some boring content online (possibly on a website that you've browsed several times already that day and found nothing new of interest) and you being anti-social to those around you. This is obvious and a good reason to get a handle on your smart phone usage already. But there's more.

"The present moment is being reduced to an anticipated memory for the Instagram generation." Professor Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize Winner.

Ths is the second problem. Smart phones are increasing our desire to share our experiences via social media as we experience them. Professor Kahneman gave a Ted Talk in 2010 in which he spoke of our our 'experiencing self' and our 'remembering self' (see here for the video). The 'experiencing self' is focused on the present moment and on the experience itself. The 'remembering self' is interested in the memory of that experience and, by extension, sharing that memory with others. He asks the question: if you knew at the end of an amazing holiday to a particular destination that you would experience total amnesia, would you still go? In other words, what is more important: the experience itself or the memory of it?

This is where unlimited access to social media via our smart phones comes into play. When we post a photo of an experience on Facebook, we are driven by our 'remembering self.' We are already thinking 'I can't wait to share this with my friends.' The problem is one of timing. Because we are already shifting into 'remembering mode' during our experience, we are not giving ourelves the opportunity to fully experience it. All of us with a smart phone have been guilty of this at some time or another. 

It seems obvious, doesn't it, that we should tip the balance a little bit more towards enjoying the experience before we think about the memory of it?

One of the reasons why we got ourselves into this mess in the first place, of course, is because the social validation of our experience through Likes and Re-tweets gives us a dopamine release that acts as a reward. By enabling us to receive this reward during our experience itself, smart phone usages creates the danger that we will receive a bigger 'reward' from the social validation on Facebook than from the actual experience.

This creates a more hazy answer to the question - what's more important, the experience or its memory (and the sharing of that memory)? But, let's face it, Facebook-driven dopamine rushes are all very well and good, but who's going to remember those when we're on our death beds? It's probably time to put our phones to one side and focus on the experience. It's the difference between being happy in your life and being happy about your life - aiming for both is surely the way forward.

The final reason is the damage smart phone addiction can be do to your attention span. We are becoming incapable of sitting still without some form of media input into our minds to keep us entertained. In fact, a study published last year found that some poeple would rather give themselves an electric shock, to alleviate the boredom, than sit on a chair and do nothing (see here). 

One of the reasons we like having access to media entertainment wherever we are through our phones is that we want to stop thinking. We like to swtich our minds off the stresses of the daily grind. Being online, or listening to music, or playing games, is a good way of doing so. There is a certain irony, therefore, in the fact that, by inputting a constant stream of media entertainment into our minds from the moment we wake til the moment we sleep, we are actually precluding the downtime our minds need to stay calm.

It's increasingly well proven that living in a city is more stressful than living in the countryside (see here). One of the suspected factors is cognitive load. This is the concept that our minds become over-stimulated simply by the hectic nature of city life, which over time generates a stress response. The same may transpire to the true of being online all day: cognitive over-load.

What do you think?

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