Do you walk around zombie-like, checking your phone every few minutes because you might be getting an important phone call or text message, or is it because it's simply a reflex, like blinking or breathing air in and out? If so, then you are like almost every other person in the tech-obsessed culture we live in today.
Cell phones are practically essential to human existence now days. There seems to be so much you can do on a smartphone: email, text, take pictures, play games, watch movies, type documents, listen to music, read, video chat, shop. The list goes on and on. Phone companies have successfully combined the functions of most electronic devices and social events into one gleaming rectangular box, composed largely of glass and aluminum, which we can navigate with voice alone. If you own one, your options for how to spend your time increase exponentially; you don't even have to leave the safety of your warm comfortable bed. Smartphones make face-to-face interactions increasingly few and far between, as there's just so much to do on your phone.
What draws young and old alike are the entertainment aspects of the smartphone. One is able to spend hours using a phone without looking up once, as most social interactions are now being conducted on cell phones.
Many people connect with their friends over the phone, for the most part. No longer do friends talk face to face, as phones are so much more interesting. There is always something for you to do on a smartphone, and the alerts seem to be designed specifically so that you can't bear to see any bright, ugly red notifications painfully standing out. Often notifications are designed to stand out and interrupt your phone's interface so that you will want to make it go away, which often leads to more time on one's phone.
Most applications also seem to be designed so there is always something you need to finish. That way you feel the need to constantly come back to them. Therefore, one's usage is increased. It is becoming socially acceptable to be on a phone while having coffee with a friend or while at a social event; most commonly among teenagers, who make up a large percentage of cell phone users according to a recent AT-T Mobile Safety Study.
Parents are buying phones for children at increasingly younger and younger ages for various reasons, including health issues and work schedules. According to the same safety study, the average age for a child to have a cell phone is 12 years and that average is rapidly decreasing.
Paul Atchley, psychology professor at the University of Kansas, has conducted several studies that show cell phone use can become psychologically compulsive. The average person looks at their phone 150 times per day, which in my opinion is about 140 times too many. So much time is taken up by something mindless and horrifically time consuming such as taking pictures of your cat or playing solitaire. There is no end to the time spent with phones, like a relationship one can't bear to break off. Almost 50 percent of Americans sleep with their phone next to them. People are so attached to cell phones there is now a name for the fear of losing the phone: Nomophobia.
Pediatricians are noticing that children who sleep with their phones have more irregular sleep patterns. Irregular sleep patterns can affect the health and well-being of a child in a big way, especially because their brains and bodies are still rapidly growing and are therefore vulnerable. According to Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., cell phones stimulate production of dopamine in one's bloodstream, which produces a feeling similar to having sex or doing drugs. Of course, the addiction may not be to the phone itself, but to a specific use or function of the phone. Signs of addiction are keeping your phone close at all times and thinking frequently about it, feeling stressed without it, and not being able to reduce phone usage.
Honestly, what are we as a culture if we never unplug? Robots? Think about all the opportunities we miss while on our phones. You are able to establish much more personal connections with people when you talk to them in person. You could stare at your phone, or you could take a hike or become closer to a friend. Aren't these simple experiences what life is about in the first place? Take some time out of your day to engage. Talk to friends face-to-face, or stop to smell the flowers. Your actions in day-to-day life will become much more meaningful and satisfying, I promise.
(Emily Herbst is a 14-year-old freshman at Petaluma High School. She plays soccer almost year-round, which takes up most of her time, and builds robots competitively for part of the year. She has always had a love and fascination for reading and writing, and would be interested in pursuing a career in journalism or photojournalism in the future.)