As you start reading this article, take a moment to think how many times have you checked your smartphone today. Add the time you played games, explored the web, checked posts on Facebook, twitter or another social network. Actually, even at this very moment you might be reading this article on your smartphone or tablet, while heading somewhere using the public transportation or seated in a cozy cafeteria enjoying your coffee with some friends. Oh, and did you notice that your friends next to you are also using their smartphones ignoring your existence? Sadly, this is a precise paradigm of how we act in our social life nowadays. For me it seems that we have exchanged our actual social lives for a virtual one. I got the spark to write this article after a recent conversation that I had with a swimming coach, where we were both seriously wondering if these innovating technologies could influence our lifestyle, and if so, to what extent.
Without spending enormous amount of time, I came to the conclusion that probably they can. I remembered a quote by Albert Einstein, saying “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” I thought, this approach might be true. People around me, myself included, spend a lot of our precious time doing something on our smartphones, ignoring face-to-face communication and any kind of incentives from our surroundings. My concern became greater when I read a recent report by Forrester Research that showed some numbers on the upcoming mobile explosion. According to the report, by 2016, in just 3 years time, one billion consumers will have smartphones. Only in the U.S alone, consumers will own 257 million smartphones and 126 million tablets. Therefore, putting together Albert Einstein’s beliefs about our future and the recent research findings, I came to the belief that something could go wrong here.
Until now, there is no strong scientific evidence examining the relationship between the use of smartphones and the impact that it might have on our social, physical and mental well-being. However, sometimes we don’t need scientific evidence to reveal something that becomes more than obvious. Going back to the talk that I had with the swimming coach about the technological revolution and its’ impact on the younger generations, I want to share a story that he told me. He said to me “the other day I was observing some students who were in the school’s kitchen trying to fry some eggs, but the funny part was that they were struggling to find a way to break these eggs properly in order to fry them”. Funny but at the same time very worrying, since kids have stopped observing and learning behaviours form adults, as they are continuously living within the surreal world of their smartphones. But is it only our social and mental life that is strongly affected by the intensive use of smartphones and tablets? From my point of view, this is only one side of the coin, and on the other side we can see the impact on our physical well-being.
Back in 2005, even before the smartphones/tablets revolution, a study revealed that sedentary behavior is an important potential determinant of the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. The authors stated that efforts to lessen the amount of time that U.S. adults spend watching television or videos or using a computer, especially if coupled with increases in physical activity, could result in substantial decreases in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. It is well documented that obesity and a number of diseases are strongly associated with sedentary life (e.g. staying home watching TV and playing video games) and at the same time negatively associated with physical activity. In a more recent study researchers, trying to explore the relationship between electronic games and childhood obesity, not surprisingly concluded that the use of electronic games was significantly and positively associated with childhood obesity. The growing problem was also well presented in a Kaiser family foundation study. Some of the main findings of this study were that children between 8—18 years of age spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including TV, computers, video games, cell phones, and movies. Of those 7.5 hours about 4.5 hours is dedicated to viewing TV.
I used to believe that my generation, and I mean people who were born in 70’s or 80’s were fortunate since we were educated and more aware about all the negative impacts that sedentary lifestyle might have, especially in relation to our kids’ development and health. Why do I think that? Because it seems that we tried to follow experts’ suggestions to keep our kids more physically active by reducing the time they were spending at home indoors. We push our kids to be outside and be more active. But, at the same time, what we also did, was give our kids smartphones in order for us to be in touch with them and vise versa. Technically, a smartphone is the same world of videogames, movies and internet, just in a handy pocketsize device that works even outside our house. Therefore, on the one hand we tried to push our kids to lead a more physically active lifestyle and on the other hand we followed the social and technological development. That is why I strongly believe that the day when we are going to see our kids in playgrounds sitting quietly playing video games on their smart devices is not far away.
Back in 1992, Nokia introduced its “connecting people” advertising slogan. Back then this slogan was very true, since mobile phones were only used in order to communicate with people who were part of our real life. But since then, everything has changed. Now we use a smartphone and not a mobile phone. We spend enormous time communicating with people whom we have never met, decreasing our attention for friends and family next to us. We have stopped observing people, behaviours and objects around us, since we are completely absorbed in our virtual world. Above all, we continuously find new tricks to reduce our physical activity habits and even more sadly we force our children to play the wrong kind of games.
All in all, it is not that I am going to throw my smartphone away now, since it still has several useful and important features. However, I will start using it in a smarter way. I will start building on my actual lifestyle instead of my virtual one. And above all, I will let my kid play at the back yard without holding a smartphone in his hands.