Smartphones have become our constant companions but new research shows they have a dark side.
The clever device which lives in our pockets helps us find a phone number quickly, provides us with instant directions, connects us with friends and entertains us, but researchers now say the costs may be much larger than a monthly bill.
A new study titled The brain in your pocket: evidence that smartphones are used to supplant thinking, shows the device that we love so much is making our brains lazy, while a second survey says we are more intimate with our mobiles than our closest relatives.
A study by the University of Waterloo study says the convenience at our fingertips is making it easy for us to avoid thinking for ourselves – in other words, the smartness of the phone is making us dumb.
Researchers tested 660 people, measuring their cognitive style and smartphone habits.
They found that people who generally go with their instincts when making decisions are more likely to rely on their phones’ search engines than their own brain power.
“Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind,” says Nathaniel Barr, the second lead author of the paper, and a postdoctoral researcher at Waterloo University.
While the study reveals an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence, it says there is still more research to be done to establish whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence.
Dumbing down our health
But smartphones are hurting our health and happiness in other, more personal ways.
Research released on Wednesday shows we would rather look deep into the eyes of a smartphone than a loved one first thing in the morning.
Research commissioned by Uncle Tobys shows that while the morning kiss was once the traditional first ritual of the day, almost two-thirds of the people surveyed say the first thing they do when they wake up is pick up their smartphone.
Only one in six people said they give their partner a good morning kiss.
The research also shows more than half the tech addicts surveyed are twice as likely to skip breakfast in favour of their smartphone.
Australian dietitian Geraldine Georgeou says people have allowed technology to “steal our good mornings”.
“It’s shocking that so many Aussies would rather spend the first hours of their day on their phone rather than with their loved ones. That (people) are missing breakfast as a result of this technology takeover is a real worry,” Ms Georgeou says.
“Many Aussies think they’re being productive by getting a jump-start on their emails first thing in the morning, but … as the day progresses they’ll find their productivity suffers as a result of having low energy levels and poor concentration associated with rushing out the door and skipping breakfast.”
Fight back, switch off
The Waterloo University researchers say that avoiding using our own minds to solve problems might have adverse consequences for ageing.
“Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise,” Mr Barr says.
“It’s important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it’s hard to recall what life was like without them.
“We may already be at that point.”
So how can we fight back against the technology freefall?
The obvious solution is to unplug, but in a tech-dominated world, that can be a challenge.
A study conducted by the American Academy of Paediatrics says we should at least make an effort to avoid looking at them right before bed.
It says increased screen time is associated with shorter sleep durations – not great, when sleep is one good way to improve brain power and memory.
So the message is clear. Be smart about your smartphone use, and don’t let your device prevent you from enjoying a real life moment.