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Smartphones: How Do They Really Affect Us?

Starting in the late 2000s, it was not uncommon to see a smartphone in the hands of neighbors, friends, family and even strangers wherever you went. According to Digital Unite, the smartphone are new breeds of mobile phones that have multiple functions similar to those you might expect from a regular computer, and typically include a touchscreen interface, internet access and an operating system capable of running downloaded applications. But before smartphones were invented, cellular phones––also called cellphones or mobile phones––were there for use. While smartphones serve multiple purposes, cellphones fulfilled only a couple of basic purposes: to let you send and receive voice or text communication. Today, almost everyone has a smartphone accessible to them. With internet access, a global positioning system (GPS), portable music players, digital cameras, and many more functions at the tip of our fingers, how does generally it affect society?

How well do we sleep at night? With things like YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media applications at the tip of our fingers, it is hard to resist checking one’s smartphone when given the opportunity. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll in which seventy-one percent of those polled sleep holding their smartphones, their smartphones in their bed, or placing on their nightstand. However, many people also use their phones as alarm clocks, making it understandable that they keep their devices in close reach. But with a smartphone so close, it would be hard to resist the temptation to check social media, e-mails, and news. However, that is not the only thing that may affect how well you sleep at night. Devices like smartphones, laptops, televisions and tablets emit blue light––a type of light that the brain perceives as daylight. This light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that affects your circadian rhythm and increases when you are preparing to go to sleep, and as a result leaves your brain feeling stimulated. Therefore, while looking at your phone at noon may not affect you at that time, looking at it at night can make it even tougher to fall asleep. Additionally, any texts, calls, and vibrations from your phone can interrupt your slumber and even wake you up.

The release of the iPhone in 2007, introduced by co-founder and CEO of Apple, significantly changed society within a decade, including other brands such as Samsung or Android. While this technology provides us opportunities to learn, convenience, exposure and more, how is it affecting us socially? “Technology affects how we communicate, but also affects the deeper ways we interact and connect with people,” according to Dr. Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT and author of “Reclaiming Conversation.” Turkle has commented and written about the role technology plays in our lives quite frequently, in both his books and when interviewed. In 2015, Julie Suttie, Greater Good’s book review editor and a frequent contributor to the magazine, asked Sherry Turkle’s thoughts on smartphones. “How are cell phones and other technologies hurting us?” Julie asked the author at the interview. “If you put a cell phone into a social interaction, it does two things: First, it decreases the quality of what you talk about, because you talk about things where you wouldn’t mind being interrupted, which makes sense, and, secondly, it decreases the empathic connection that people feel toward each other. So, even something as simple as going to lunch and putting a cell phone on the table decreases the emotional importance of what people are willing to talk about, and it decreases the connection that the two people feel toward one another.” Turkle responded.

Although our technology affects our social life and health, how does it affect us positively? A 2016 article by entrepreneur and designer Amar Ilindra expands on this idea. Sharing photos, videos, audio, and more online and between friends and family is easier than ever. Smartphones have given people an opportunity to achieve a new level of communication. “Keeping in touch with loved ones has never been easier, as bonds are very important and smartphones are helping to strengthen them,” said Ilindra. Additionally, smartphones allow people to keep up to date immediately with notifications and updates on their phone or browser, whether it be for news, important e-mails, the weather and other notifications can be received much faster.

The smartphone has both positive and negative impacts on us, some benefitting from what it offers more than others. Our devices can change how well we sleep, how we socialize, and how we keep in touch. So the next time you pick up your smartphone, you’ll know how it affects you.

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