Smartphones emerged in the mid-1990s, including the first iPhone which was released on June 29, 2007. Since their release, the world has changed. Have you noticed how more people now walk with heads down and their eyes on a phone or how we quickly reach for a phone (or another digital device) during a moment of downtime? I must admit, I am guilty of this, too. Smartphones are a transformative device. We have information at our fingertips that we didn’t have before. There are many benefits, such as being able to access facts quickly, view maps for directions, and pay using a phone at a register. There are also challenges with living in a digital culture.
In a recent NPR article entitled “Smartphone Detox” published to Mindshift, an online platform that explores the future of learning and examines how learning is changing, the author reminds the reader of psychologist Ivan Pavlov who is famous for completing a series of experiments using sounds with dogs and feeding times. If a sound was played the dogs eventually learned that it was time to eat. Hearing the sound led to an immediate reaction by the dog. The author makes a comparison to Pavlov and the sounds associated with phones in the modern world. I found this connection to be very interesting and also quite true. I’ve seen it in my own home, but also in many public places such as restaurants, the train station, and even religious ceremonies. David Greenfield, a professor at the University of Connecticut says, “Smartphone notifications have turned us all into Pavlov’s dogs.” We get pleasure from hearing that an email, tweet, text, Facebook post, or Instagram message has been sent to our digital device. Greenfield goes on to say that adults check their phones “50 to 300 times each day.” Wow! These numbers are staggering.
What can we do? Consider a “digital detox” for a period of time. Put down the devices. Turn them off and not just to vibrate or silent. Disconnect from the world. This detox can be helpful for people of all ages. Instead, create family time to play together, to exercise together, to have boardgame time together, to enjoy a family meal together, or to do some community service work together. There are lots of things we can do without our devices.
As we march forward towards the winter season and the celebration of holidays, keep this in mind. Time spent with family and friends does not have to center around handheld digital devices. Consider adding a “digital detox” into your regular routines during this season and throughout the remainder of the year. You may find it has wide-ranging benefits and draws your family and friends closer.