“You can go on break now,” my manager says to me. I jog down to the break room, fish through my jacket pocket, and pull out my phone: Text message from the roomie, a couple Facebook notifications, a missed call from mom (again). I walk over to the couch, my thumbs rapidly dancing over the screen of my iPhone, and plop myself down next to some coworkers.
“Hey,” I say, barely looking up.
“Hey,” they respond, each nestled into a personalized cyber world.
My break lasts about ten minutes. Ten minutes of constant checking in and checking out of conversations—interrupted human interaction.
Over six billion of the world’s seven billion people own a cell phone. In fact, according to a United Nations report in 2013, more people in the world have cell phones than they do toilets. No longer do humans live solely in the physical world, but parts of us are created and connected in a virtual network. And, whether for better or for worse, we’re addicted.
Last week, Buzzfeed posted a video documenting six millennials who give up their cell phones for one week. The video reported that, according to data from the Android app Locket, the average user unlocks their phone 110 times per day.
The experiment’s subjects showed discomfort and anxiety during the beginning of the week. Making plans, getting around, and contacting others seemed nearly impossible. However, by the end of the experiment, nearly all of the participants noted a sense of refreshment. Some reported feeling more focused, and other said they felt free. “I would totally recommend every single person to do this,” one subject said.
To be truly alone nowadays is a rarity. The whole world is adapting to the ever-present smartphone. The app industry is booming and Wi-Fi is available nearly everywhere, allowing smartphone users to connect and share whenever they please. The development of the smartphone is undoubtedly contributing to the world’s collective conscience, but are our bodies adapting to it in the same way?
It’s no secret that cell phones have harmful side effects—both physically and mentally. The constant curl of our hands and tapping of our thumbs puts stress on our finger joints. The bright glow of our LED screens is damaging to our eyes, and the failure to properly disinfect our phones on a regular basis surely contributes to the pool of germs squiggling around on their shiny surfaces.
In terms of mental effects, a recent study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found that participants suffered from separation anxiety when parted from their iPhones. This, in turn, caused weakened cognitive skills and notable physical changes, such as increased blood pressure.” The results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state,” said the study’s lead author, Russell Clayton, in a statement.
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a Kickstarter profile for a product called the Light Phone. A visual artist and a product developer from New York joined forces to design a phone that allows users to disconnect without completely cutting the cord—“Your phone away from phone,” as they say.
The Light Phone is roughly the size of a credit card and can only be used to make phone calls. Using their app, you can leave your own phone at home and have all of its calls forwarded to the device inside your pocket. “You can go out with the Light Phone, free of distractions, and you’ll never miss a call from mom,” says co-creator, Joe Hollier, in their Kickstarter video. “If we look at everything everyone else is building, it’s fighting for more of our attention and more of our time. The Light Phone is thoughtfully simple, designed to be used as little as possible.”
In our hyper-connected world, The Light Phone foreshadows a counter-industry that’s sure to eventually take form. A constant connection is surely beneficial, as it leads us to information and opportunities that would otherwise be unknown. However, every step forward often comes with a sacrifice. If the road to an all-encompassing network of knowledge is synced with the road to self-destruction, perhaps it’s best to unplug for a while.