Perhaps because the Apple iPhone was only released in 2007, a lot of us have not yet grasped the full deleterious effects of ‘the device’, and the many similar not-so-smartphones the now clunky-seeming original awned.
Countless numbers of people have been killed by their smartphones already, and we’re not talking about the tin-foil-hat brigade’s concerns about the effects of 5G, wi-fi and phone signals in general on our brains.
The most obvious example is all the people who are killed on our roads, not just because they were the ones stupidly looking at their phones while driving – Australians now believe it is the main reason for our rising road toll, with 32% of drivers admitting to reading text messages while driving, according to the Community Attitudes to Road Safety 2013 Survey Report – but because they ambled, zombie-like, into traffic while posting on Instagram.
The number of pedestrians killed on US roads has risen by a staggering 51% since 2009. In 2017, pedestrian fatalities in Australia jumped by 20% in a year, with police blaming the stupidity of smartphones.
If you haven’t noticed the number of people who try to cross roads while ignoring the approach of big heavy vehicles in favour of their tiny screens, it’s probably because you’ve been looking at your phone.
The RACQ would like to see new laws to fine people who cross the road while staring at a device. “We think that sort of offence is on its way. There’s no doubt about it,” spokesman Paul Turner said.
“Stand at an intersection in the CBD for half an hour and you’ll see five or 10 people just being saved or stopping themselves from walking out into traffic because they were looking down at their phone. When you tap them on the shoulder and they look up it’s as though they’ve been in some sort of daze because they are so engrossed in their phone.”
No doubt you’re congratulating yourself for not being like that yourself but, be honest, what is your relationship with your phone like? And even if it’s not getting you run over, how much harm is it doing you?
Dopamine and cortisol
Have you, for example, felt what’s known as ‘phantom vibrations’ from your phone? That sensation where your body is sure it’s detected a new message buzz, but you check and there’s nothing there? That strange and concerning sensation is caused by the state of hyper-vigilance you’ve no doubt found yourself in from time to time, when stressful/vital information is pouring into this now essential-for-life device, which is rarely more than a metre away from you.
The fact is, we are, as a species, becoming addicted to both the dopamine hits of satisfaction that our smartphones give us hundreds of times a day, while being simultaneously assaulted by the dangerous levels of cortisol they send coursing through our bodies.
That combination is affecting everything from the way we sleep to our attention span, our memory, our self-esteem, decision-making skills and our physical health. You’re probably aware that many apps, and phones themselves, are designed to be habit forming. Those Likes on Facebook and Instagram are designed to trigger happy chemicals in our brains, much the way poker machines do, and thus to make us want to keep checking them, endlessly.