There seems to be a growing concern that the internet and smartphones are making people less knowledgable. We may be breeding a generation of users who just don’t know the basics of life. Life since Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007 has changed, but not immeasurably.
Planet earth is home to more than 3-billion smartphones, and about one of every three comes from Apple. Smartphones prior to iPhone were not so smart and often required its owner to be somewhat geeky, or to stick with the very basics of calls, texts, and, well, that’s about it. iPhone changed all that. iPhones do more.
These days we can sit on a bus, train, subway car, taxi, or entertain ourselves at work, school, or play– all with a device that brings the world to our hands and eyes. It does not matter where we are or where we go. All the world’s information can be summoned with a tap of a few fingers.
News, information, music, TV shows, movies, games, and face-to-face conversations with others halfway around the world can be brought to the fore with a smartphone. Here’s the problem. Smartphones are changing humanity, and I fear not for the better.
iPhone might be making too many of us stupid. There is a growing body of research from professionals who track such things that our addiction to the smartphone screen might damage our brains. How? Addiction. Dopamine.
Little by little, moment by moment, we focus our attention on the mundane brought to us by our iPhones and iPads and Android smartphones. That means we focus less attention on matters that, well, matter. We devote less time to one another, less time trying to understand the changes around us. We have reduced attention span and increasing declines in the so-called life-work balance. We can’t remember anything except what we just read because we’re digesting so much trivial information.
Even Americans think the internet interferes with their lives, but the number of us who think that has tripled since the smartphone brought the internet to our hands. Already there are calls from influential Apple shareholders for the company to do more about such addictions; especially among the young who are most susceptible and for whom we know not the outcome of decades of iPhone and smartphone usage.
Today’s crop of devices are breeding grounds for dopamine hits. App usage is on the increase and apps, notifications, alerts, alarms, badges and the screen itself infuse us with ever more warm and fuzzy dopamine feedback loops that just can’t be good for the species.
Look around. You’ll see family members dining out, each with a smartphone in their hands; eating yes, conversing little. School age children have similar sufferings and we just don’t know the impact of a generation brought up on dopamine production machines. Do you have applications that nag you? Do you respond? Or, kill the nagging? Most of us respond. Facebook and texting are perfect examples of how these dopamine feedback loops work. We hear the alert, we reach for the iPhone. We respond and get another alert.
Whilst measuring the salivation rates of dogs, he found that they would produce saliva when they heard or smelt food in anticipation of feeding. This is a normal reflex response which we would expect to happen as saliva plays a role in the digestion of food.
We see the same thing in humans when we walk into a restaurant or come home to the sound and smells of cooking.
However, the dogs also began to salivate when events occurred which would otherwise be unrelated to feeding. By playing sounds to the dogs prior to feeding them, Pavlov showed that they could be conditioned to unconsciously associate neutral, unrelated events with being fed
Sound familiar? We are impacted by such built-in responses whenever an iPhone makes a sound, and sometimes when it does not, but we think it did.
In answer to the basic question, “Is your iPhone making you stupid?” No. Not you. Not me. But everybody else.
Can or should Apple do anything about this growing problem with addiction to dopamine flavored devices? Can? Perhaps. Should? It won’t happen. Device makers and app developers appeal to the lowest common denominator in society. I fear this is a human battle we refuse to acknowledge and cannot win.
Every day each of us receives 24 hours– 60-minutes in each one– to choose what we will do and when. Choose wisely.