Is Secondhand Screen Time the New Secondhand Smoking?

Yves here. It no doubt seems easy to dismiss concerns about high levels of smart device and computer use among the young as overwrought. Yet some elite private schools in California disallow screen uses in classes and for projects, among other reasons to push students to develop hand-eye coordination and three-D skills. A story this week in the Wall Street Journal described how schools that require students to give up their phones so they can focus on tasks at hand have found that they need to keep the devices in the students’ sight to prevent anxiety:

Smartphones have long been a scourge for teachers and administrators, who have employed a range of strict measures to keep them out of the classroom. But it turns out that getting rid of phones introduced another distraction: withdrawal pangs.

Now, teachers across the country are testing their own methods for managing their students’ phone-related angst. Some use lockable pouches that let students hold their phones rather than having to leave them alone in their lockers. Others have set up charging stations in classrooms, betting that the visibility and value of a charge will keep students at ease. Then there are the teachers who have decided dangling extra credit and other prizes is the best defense against phone withdrawal….

South Bronx Early College Academy Charter School in New York decided two years ago that making students leave their phones in their lockers wasn’t working: Scofflaws sneaked out of class to use them. So the school bought a bunch of locking, foamlike pouches from a company called Yondr that also markets its devices to theaters that want to prevent audience members from filming performances. The students can keep their phones with them but can’t access them without a special magnetic unlocking mechanism…

During the first few weeks, students were “fiending” while waiting in line at the end of the day for the teacher to unlock their pouches, Mr. Blough says.

Eighth-grader Olamide Oladitan and some of his fellow students tried to pry and cut open their pouches with objects like pens and scissors. “It didn’t work,” Mr. Oladitan says.

On the one hand, regularly checking one’s screen and engaging with a smartphone clearly makes it hard to pay attention to what is in front of you, let alone absorb information. But the compromise some schools have adopted for screen denial, of having it still in eyeshot, is less than ideal. From a 2017 article:

Your cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when your smartphone is within reach — even if it’s off. That’s the takeaway finding from a new study from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

McCombs Assistant Professor Adrian Ward and co-authors conducted experiments with nearly 800 smartphone users in an attempt to measure, for the first time, how well people can complete tasks when they have their smartphones nearby even when they’re not using them.

In one experiment, the researchers asked study participants to sit at a computer and take a series of tests that required full concentration in order to score well. The tests were geared to measure participants’ available cognitive capacity — that is, the brain’s ability to hold and process data at any given time. Before beginning, participants were randomly instructed to place their smartphones either on the desk face down, in their pocket or personal bag, or in another room. All participants were instructed to turn their phones to silent.

The researchers found that participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.

The findings suggest that the mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning, even though people feel they’re giving their full attention and focus to the task at hand.

“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” Ward said. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.”

Other experts have warned that the frequency of smart screen use among the young, who’ve grown up interacting with them intensely, has reduced social skills.

What will happen if the combination of PG&E-type power shutoffs and other weather-related events (remember the prolonged Hurricane Sandy blackout for lower Manhattan) become the new normal? How will people redefine their relationship with their screens if they become much less reliable tools?

By Joelle Renstrom, Lecturer of Rhetoric, Boston University. Originally published at The Conversation

The Environmental Protection Agency first warned of secondhand smoke in 1991, some 30 years after scientists determined that smoking cigarettes causes cancer. Today, a growing body of research points toward a new indirect health hazard.

Just as frequently being around other people while they smoke can cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other ailments, what I call “secondhand screen time” could be endangering children.

By not limiting their own phone use, parents and other caregivers may be unwittingly setting kids up to be addicted to screens.

An Addiction

A decade ago, the unwillingness – or perhaps the inability – of the college students in my writing classes to stay off their phones for 50 minutes at a stretch catalyzed my interest in screen use. And my students have only grown more unwilling to put down their phones, a trend that has also gotten worse outside of my classroom.

Curious about my students’ phone use, I began researching screen addiction and conducting my own surveys. Roughly 20% of my students have used the word “addiction” when describing their phone habits, and many more have expressed misgivings about their phone use.

While I encourage them to examine their habits, I blame students less for their tech addiction than I did a decade ago. They’ve learned this behavior from adults – in many cases since the moment they were born.

Checking Twitter in front of kids is not the same as blowing smoke in their faces. Smartphones and cigarettes do, however, have some things in common. Both are addictive and both became wildly popular before researchers learned about their addictive properties and health dangers.

On average, American adults touch their phones over 2,500 times a day. According to the American Psychiatric Association, that fits the definition of addiction: “a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.” While researchers continue to study the effects and extent of phone use, the scientific consensus is that phone addiction is real.

Desiring Objects

What’s a parent to do while nursing or when an infant falls asleep on one’s chest?

Perhaps they’ll read the news, check email, text friends or scan social media parenting groups. A phone or tablet can be a portal to the rest of the world – after all, caring for small children can be isolating.

But kids, even babies, notice these habits. They see parents reach again and again for a seemingly magical object that glints and flashes, makes sounds and shows moving images.

Who wouldn’t want such a wonderful plaything? Trouble is, if the desire for a phone builds in infancy, it can become second nature.

Troubling Research

Some researchers have already found links between excessive screen time, particularly phone use, and attention deficits, behavioral issues, sleep problems, impaired social skills, loneliness, anxiety and depression.

Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Israel’s Educational Neuroimaging Center recently published a study in JAMA Pediatrics that focused on cognitive-behavioral risks of exposing preschool-aged kids to screen-based media. That includes video games, TV, websites and apps. Phones are particularly problematic, the study found, because they provide mobile access to all of this media. They found that screen exposure impedes the formation of nerve systems involved in language development, expression and reading skills.

These findings point to yet another consequence of excessive screen time, especially for younger kids. Since 96% of Americans have phones, many babies are exposed to screens soon after they’re born and the stakes of such exposure are becoming better understood.

To be sure, it’s hard if not impossible to assess how much time Americans are spending looking at screens given the countless different ways that people use their devices. And because not all screen time is equally good or bad for you, some experts are calling for a “Human Screenome Project” to assess what we’re doing on our screens and to figure out what the consequences might be.

Developing Brains

When younger kids are exposed to harmful, habit-forming behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes or gambling, they’re more likely to become addicted to those same substances or behaviors. Exposure to secondhand smoke itself also can make kids prone to cigarette addiction.

While scientists don’t yet know for sure if that happens to kids who observe their parents’ phone use, there’s ample evidence that kids learn from and mimic their parents’ behaviors. If children see their parents do something they’re not allowed to do, that behavior doesn’t seem bad or wrong, and they may desire the “forbidden fruit” all the more.

My mom, a lifelong smoker, had her first cigarette when she was 12. After dinner one night, her parents, both of whom smoked multiple packs of unfiltered cigarettes each day, lit up and her dad handed her the pack. This was in the 1950s, before people knew the effects of smoking.

When she took a drag, instead of coughing, she felt like she’d “died and gone to heaven.” My mom’s parents smoked so often in front of her that she both wanted to do it and knew exactly how.

When I see toddlers navigate smartphones as though they were born using them, this story springs to mind.

I’ve seen parents hand over iPhones to 2-year-olds to placate them in restaurants, just as mine sometimes plopped me down in front of the TV to keep me occupied. The difference is that I couldn’t bring the TV to the dinner table, or anywhere else.

John Hutton, a pediatrician who researches the effects of phone use, has found that roughly 90% of U.S. babies are exposed to screen time before their first birthday, and that it’s not uncommon for 2- or 3-month-olds to watch phones.

Breaking Old Habits

The human brain continues developing until we’re roughly 25 years old, so teenage behavior can have a significant and lasting impact. Research indicates that the adolescent brain is particularly prone to risk-taking, peer-seeking and lack of impulse control.

Between that and a lifetime of fetishizing screens, is it any wonder that so many teenagers won’t put their phones down?

My college students describe the disconcerting and disappointing quiet that sets in when they’re at a table in the dining hall or in someone’s dorm room and everyone’s deep into a phone. Phones facilitate an incalculable amount of important interactions for them, especially with friends and family back home.

But by the time they’re in college, they can recognize and articulate at least some of what they’re missing when they spend so much time staring at screens. They can assess their own habits and implement some changes if they so choose, but it makes sense that they, having been raised with this techno-magic, would never think of giving it up.

A 2-month-old or a 2-year-old, however, can’t do that. Since the frontal cortex of an adolescent brain is still developing, teenagers aren’t fully able to reason or control impulses.

Perhaps, most adults can’t either. But since it’s up to today’s adults to shape younger generations, we should be aware of the secondhand effects of our own behavior.

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  1. none

    Damn I thought this was going to be about my brain rotting because my roommate watches TV all the time.

  2. kimyo

    framing the problem as ‘addiction’ transfers the blame to the victim. (ex: in the opioid crisis – it’s not the ‘addicts’, it’s the sacklers marketing a defective product)

    i cringe every time i see a child using a cell phone. a friend of mine has a newborn which is never more than a few feet from 4 or 5 cell phones / tablets / ‘smart’ devices.

    Study: Evidence of risks linked to magnetic field exposure

    A Kaiser Permanente study of exposure to non-ionizing radiation from magnetic fields in pregnant women found a significantly higher rate of miscarriage.

    …researchers asked women over age 18 with confirmed pregnancies to wear a small (a bit larger than a deck of cards) magnetic-field monitoring device for 24 hours.

    Objective magnetic field measurements and pregnancy outcomes were obtained for 913 pregnant women, all members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California. Miscarriage occurred in 10.4 percent of the women with the lowest measured exposure level (1st quartile) of magnetic field non-ionizing radiation on a typical day, and in 24.2 percent of the women with the higher measured exposure level (2nd, 3rd and 4th quartiles), a nearly three times higher relative risk.

    “This study provides evidence from a human population that magnetic field non-ionizing radiation could have adverse biological impacts on human health,” he said.

    1. Math is Your Friend

      “This study provides evidence from a human population that magnetic field non-ionizing radiation could have adverse biological impacts on human health”

      Maybe, maybe not. Crucial questions are not answered.

      For example:

      – were there any detectable differences among the quartiles?

      – was the division of the test subjects part of the experimental design, or was it an ad hoc decision after looking at the data?

      – how do the results change if the monitoring is done for a more representative fraction of their lives, such as a week or a month?

      – were there socio-economic differences among the quartiles?

      – how many other studies produce similar results? What was their experimental design, subject selection process, sample size?

      – how many other studies produced negative results for this relationship? What was their experimental design, subject selection process, sample size?

      – what mechanism was proposed for electromagnetic fields to cause this effect?

      – Where was the measuring device worn?

      – Were there differences in health and/or levels of activity among the subjects? How did these match up with the quartiles?

      – what was the age of the subjects in each group?

      All too often, studies imply or claim evidence for causal effects based solely on correlation.

      One of my university statistics courses pointed out a correlation of .99 between stork population and number of new babies in one Dutch city. Because we have a good understanding of where babies come from, no one credited the storks, despite an almost perfect correlation.

      Similarly, the probability that people will die in the first year or two after quitting smoking is higher than that for similar people who do not quit. This does not mean quitting smoking is bad for your health.

      Any assertion based on correlation requires a careful search for confounding variables and common causes. Lots of medical/health studies seem to ignore that, in part probably because it is more useful to the experimenter to find an effect rather than report a negative result.

      Thinking that may be cynical of me, but sloppy experimental design or analysis will get you into less trouble than outright faking the data… which also happens.

      For another possible problem, see

  3. Nick

    I dare you.
    Take a ride in any major metropolis in any college city and observe the bus stops.
    Very few, if any, are talking to someone else at the bus stop. One on one but it’s a cell phone world.

      1. Pat

        True this. I’ve never seen it except when there is an exceptionally long wait for the bus. Same before and after cell phones everywhere.

      2. Anthony G Stegman

        A former co-worker of mine met his wife while waiting to take the train to work. Exceptions are the rule! :)

    1. amfortas the hippie

      true enough, but i manage, somehow

      as for the rest, when we eat out as a familia, it is forbidden
      and we’re certain to point out all the other families in the place, each individual in their own private world.
      boys have remarked that seeing it from outside makes a difference “it’s kinda creepy!”
      they’re then more aware of their own pseudosddiction

  4. Felix_47

    Think about all the time we used to waste waiting in line or waiting for a bus or whatever. Now you can be reading NC or a newspaper in a foreign language. Or you can be asking Mr. Google a question. It depends how you use the smartphone….if you are watching reruns of the view or Oprah you are probably wasting your life but if you are reading Teachout’s outstanding article in the Guardian…..probably not.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I like having those odd minutes (not that I have many) to look at people and muse. And if I am going someplace where I think I will have downtime, I bring a book.

      1. curious euro

        My books are all on the phone already.
        A single $10 32GB SD card and you can have an actually full library with you all the time.

        PS: otoh there is no whatsapp on the phone either.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I hate reading books on even a Kindle. I hate the look of the page and for social science works, the fact that the layout is always and ever the same means I can’t remember who wrote which thing I read, a problem I never never had with print books.

          On top of that, retention is better with print.

          Print sales are coming back:

          Here’s what’s going on book sales world: Printed book sales continue to increase. Meanwhile, e-book sales are falling.

          1. curious euro

            2% growth per year is not “coming back”,that is treading water against inflation.
            This is about authors who contract with traditional publishers and sell their wares this way. There ebooks have low growth rates since the big 5 publishers priced ebooks out of the market around 2013: a hardcover can be reduced in price, a paperback can be released. They will not allow price reduced ebooks.

            Ebooks are more and more self published (yes, the craftsmanship like cover picture, editing,etc. often suffers and due to the glut so does the actual writing). The number of these self published ones basically exploded the last ~5 years and make now afaik around half the book sales in fiction overall. There is a ton of cheap but plentiful romance, scifi, fantasy, mystery books now. Sadly most of them are sold on amazon, but 30% per copy to the big bad wolf is vastly better than any deal they could get from a traditional publisher. Authors are like musicians: the publishers f..amily blog them over. Authors a bit less so since there is no expensive studio and mastering involved, but basically the same.

            So no, print is not coming back it is merely holding steady to slight decline. Growth happens elsewhere.

          2. David

            I’ve actually had the experience of finding books on my iPad that I had no memory of buying, and had never read, which is scarcely possible with real printed books. I have a rule that I only buy e-books when either the printed version is unavailable or will take months to arrive, or alternatively when the books are essentially technical or reference works.

          3. Antagonist Muscles

            Because of some rare disorder, I can only look at computers or screens for an extremely limited amount of time. Whenever I notice something I want to read thoroughly here at NC or elsewhere on the web, I copy and paste the text into a word processor. With my specialized print fonts on paper, it is amazing how I can increase the clip at which I read and increase my retention. One could also click on the “Print Friendly, PDF & Email” link at the bottom of each article here.

            Yves and Michael Hudson receive my highest (and curious) compliment because they are the two writers I most frequently print out. In my book, if I send what you wrote to the printer, then you wrote something insightful. This practice has the unfortunate side effect of not participating in the comments.

          4. eg

            I prefer real books, but will tolerate e-books for travel purposes. It’s a lot easier for me to bring my tablet than lug around the paper versions.

            And I used to keep a book in my knapsack for transit, and another in my car before the smartphone made that unnecessary — though I will admit that I rarely read a book on my smartphone, which means its newsmedia that keeps me occupied while waiting in lines or on transit.

          5. katiebird

            Yes, retention is better with print. Which is why I like my reference books to be print but my fiction to be on my kindle. I save a lot of money by reading novels several times for the first time. Really.

          6. Anthony G Stegman

            I’m with you. Though I read NC on a wide screen monitor I much prefer print. It is easier on the eyes, and retention is much better. Plus, it feels good to turn the pages. Something sensual about that.

        2. Oh

          Isn’t reading books on the phone the same addition that the article is talking about? I wonder if it’s more of an eye strain to read a book on a screen?

        3. Carey

          I’m seldom reading much more than half-a-dozen books at a time, so carrying them’s not really a bother.

  5. The Rev Kev

    ‘They’ve learned this behavior from adults – in many cases since the moment they were born.’

    Damn right but not who she says they are. I have no idea how much money has been spent on researching how to make screen time addictive by high tech firms but if somebody said that it was in the tens of billions I would not be surprised. If it is addictive, it is because it has been engineered to be so by taking advantage of human psychology. But we see the results everywhere.

    I was at the Transport department this week and saw a mother with three kids of various ages. When she told them that they were leaving, they all followed her with each staring down at their screens and the youngest was only about six. I swear to god I was reminded of the scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where you had a line of monks with boards in front of them, whacking themselves in the face from time to time. And you see this everywhere.

    The implication is that these people can never be truly self-contained but must always be looking outside of themselves in material items to be whole which is not a good place to be. And you miss so much. Years ago I saw this English guy on YouTube talking about this problem and how he met his wife because he was lost in the streets and asked her for directions. If he had a mobile back then he would have simply used Google maps and would never have talked to a strange girl as he would have had his head buried in a mobile.

    Whenever he have a new device in our lives we pay a cost whether it be a car, a telephone, an airplane or a mobile. There is always a cost while we learn to adapt but we are going to have even more severe problems with mobiles before we get a handle on them. When I was younger I often use to sit at a window over a coffee in a cafe and watch people go by as there was usually something of interest, especially if there was something easy on the eyes going by. But this addiction to mobiles has now warped peoples behaviour, even when they are just walking in the street. Not good this.

  6. Geoff

    On the other hand, this is a golden age for learning.
    My mobile devices teach and quiz me on Japanese vocabulary, letterforms and grammar. They remember the questions I got wrong and ask me again at just the right time to maximise my recall ability. It’s better than classroom lessons and incomparable to just reading a text book.
    Youtube videos teach me how to cook, play piano and guitar, speak Japanese, navigate a sailing boat. I can get tips from Herbie Hancock or other talented teachers I could not hope to meet in real life.
    There are apps with chord charts for tens of thousands of jazz tunes, and you can transpose them with a touch. Other apps tell you where the rocks are at sea.
    Of course, instead, you might be playing candy crush, looking at endless beautiful scenes of improbable happiness on Instagram or arguing with Trump supporters on Facebook. I’m not gunna lie – this is probably doing your mental health no good at all.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You can do this on a laptop and not have a phone sucking for your attention and keeping you from people. Tasks like learning a language are better done when focusing on that exclusively, even if for 10 mins at a time, rather than for 60 seconds while on line at a store when your attention will flit back to your surroundings.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      This is very true – I’m trying to learn Japanese too and I find it very helpful that I can do 10 minutes on Duolingo or similar a few times a day. And of course I do a lot of my NC and other news browsing on my phone. Having a phone hasn’t changed my habits so much as pre-smartphones I was the sort of person incapable of going anywhere without a magazine or book to browse. I loved long train journeys for that reason alone.

      But I do think this sort of use is for the minority. Whenever I find myself sneaking a look over someones shoulders to see what they are actually doing on their phones, the clear majority of the time its a game or social media on the browser (even last night at my evening language class I saw one guy sneak a peak at FB – mind you, he’s the most fluent in the class). And even worse (to me) is people using them when walking – twice on the way to work in the past week I’ve been pretty much barged off the pavement by younger women with their head down looking at the phone (for some reason, women seem to be worse at this, at least in my city).

      It really comes down to a certain type of discipline. You can use it positively, and learn when its appropriate to leave it at home (I force myself to leave my phone at home regularly), and to use it productively when you do have it.

      The problem of course is that its unreasonable to expect a 14 year old to have this type of discipline. I understand entirely why parents find it easier to just give in to demands to use a phone (I babysit regularly for friends and I’m guilty of it too). I don’t see any real alternative but an element of compulsion, at least in schools and colleges.

      1. Thuto

        I find a direct correlation between phone separation anxiety and one’s use of social media. I’m not on any social media myself, so I find it relatively easy to leave my phone at home when I’m out or in another room when i’m home, sometimes for hours on end. Friends who do use social media find it very difficult to do this, and like you i’ve found women to be worse at this than men though with teenagers and very young adults the gender seems to make no difference whatsoever in relation to this.

        1. RMO

          Thuto: That’s been my observation as well. I would be interested in seeing it tested scientifically to see if that anecdotal evidence stands up. Social media seems to be a driver in the desire to always have a phone ready to use.

      2. JTMcPhee

        Re those people locked into phonespace while walking, I’ve seen someone doing what in basketball is called a “pick:” stand stock still and let the person run into them. Maybe have your own prying-device record the interaction on video, for evidence should the other person experience some injury in the encounter.

        A rude society is a f***ed society. But the only way bad behaviors get corrected in the direction of politeness is if polite people learn to stand their ground.

        I once did something I have also seen others do, both in real life and in various YouTube videos — a young woman at a particularly long stoplight emptied her ashtray on the street and compounded the misdemeanor by doing that thing that smokers sometimes do — shooting the stub of the butt she was smoking out of her thumb and middle fingers onto the ground, in a kind of “F*** you” gesture to the planet. So I got out of my car, scooped up as many of her discards as I could, and dropped them in the open driver side rear window. Quite a stream of bad language from the pretty young woman.

        I don’t do stuff like that any more — Florida, concealed carry, that other kind of “stand your ground,” and all that…

        Interesting that almost all the videos I have encountered capturing similar conduct seem to come from Russia, where if the video samples are at all representative, pretty young women have a lot of egoism in them, though I recall a couple of clips where young women picked up trash thrown on the street by males and shoved it back in the offenders’ cars…

        1. Antagonist Muscles

          I have a particular contempt for smartphones. I experience schadenfreude whenever I see a smartphone user stumble while lost in phonespace. Part of me wishes the user would get eaten by a bear.

          Ordinarily, I muse on the gait and posture of people I see. Then I contemplate how that gait and posture may be contributing to that individual’s chronic injuries. In my mind, I make recommendations to correct whatever physical ailment I noticed. One might say I have compassion.

          But I don’t have compassion for smartphone addicts. (Yes, I do know this is smug. Sorry.) I see an addict, and I just shake my head at the self-inflicted insomnia, attention problems, anxiety, and postural problems. Smartphone usage is a recipe for unnecessarily elongated back and neck muscles, notably the trapezius and levator scapula. Unnecessarily shortened pectoralis muscles and anterior neck muscles are coincident. This, in turn, is a recipe for respiratory difficulty. Excessive computer usage would cause similar problems, but the scrunching of muscles is more pronounced with phones because the hands have to steadily hold the phone about one foot from the face.

      3. Bruce F

        PK, this is a little off topic, but I wanted to mention a free language exchange platform The Mixxer, that is hosted by Dickinsin College.

        The Mixxer is designed to connect language learners around the world so that everyone is both student and teacher. Signup for free to find a language partner. Help them practice your native language while they help you practice theirs.

        I’ve used it for the last 2 years to improve my Spanish, talking twice a week with a (now) friend via Skype.

      4. David

        I try to do much the same thing. I was always an obsessive who would go into existential meltdown if I had nothing to read (I think it was Samuel Butler who said he’d rather read a railway timetable than nothing at all) and certainly my phone has given me solace from time to time. But like you I sneak a look at other people’s use from time to time, and it’s not always very edifying.

  7. allan

    At the college level in the U.S., there can be a serious obstacle to banning electronic devices in the classroom:
    the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a class of any size there will be at least a few students needing accommodations, and those often involve allowing them to take notes on a laptop or tablet.
    Once you are letting them do it, you can’t ban other students from doing the same without revealing
    who the students with accommodations are. Checkmate.

    1. Big River Bandido

      I’m a college teacher and I have seen a huge uptick in accommodations. I’ve never yet seen that one. And if I did, I’d be inclined to push back, especially seeing as few of my students take notes at all.

      I instituted a new policy in my classes last summer: cell phones must be silent and unseen. I call students out in class if I see them.

  8. Julia Wille

    It is strange, that we “hack” our life into pieces and wonder about the outcomes so much.
    Not only do we “train” children to use their screens constantly – we work so hard to condition them, to not move too much, to need distraction and entertainment. We train children to sit still, to “behave”. Focus means usually:” do not move”, we give them pills and bombard them with advertisement, about how great and connecting social medias are. Sports are often an extracurricular activity, attainable only for people with some money and time. Walking is discouraged -because its to dangerous (through our traffic mostly) and we design movement out of our lives.
    Having to buy “pouches” to lock in your phone, seems as logical as producing and buying dispensers, that only allow one cigarette every 4 hours to get out.
    We as well compare again the “quality” of our immobility, as it would be really an individual choice.
    The more intellectuals among us, can tell proudly, that they read world literature on their phones, rather than watching TV.
    And, btw. what is the energy use, to stream all the news, and social media and tv and books – how much energy do we use for our digital lifestyle?
    I think this all requires a total change of our society, not individual bandaids.

    1. Carey

      Thank you for this comment.

      >I think this all requires a total change of our society, not individual bandaids.

      Pretty sure it’s coming.

  9. Arizona Slim

    Later today, I’m going to leave my lair to interact with the world.

    Will I take my phone with me? Perhaps.

    Then again, I may just leave it at home.

    Why? Because when I’m visiting with people, I like to give them my attention. It’s harder to do that if my phone is turned on. Or with me.

  10. David in Santa Cruz

    I do think that there is a poorly understood impact on brain development, which research shows is largely experience-based between the ages of 15 and 23 (with some gender-based variation), being caused by this constant need to be comforted by a smartphone. I saw this in my own children when they went through these ages.

    As an aside, I find the Ivy/elite conventional wisdom about the “low-information” masses to be complete poppycock. People everywhere constantly have their noses in their smartphones these days. They have plenty of information, but many of them never developed the ability to think analytically about it…

  11. Ben Oldfield

    I am a speed reader with a book with a speed of about 100 pages per hour. When I am reading a book all I remember is the story and turn the pages automatically.

    I normally read an ebook on a laptop not a phone and i have to concously turn the pages and do not have the same focas just on the story.

    I have come to realise I read the words based on the visual outline of each word and not on the letters or the sound of the word. I still struggle with spelling because I learnt speed reading so young.

    1. Carey

      It varies a lot, I think: I can enjoyably spend several minutes on a short paragraph. I’m slow, though.

  12. lordkoos

    I think it is only common sense that it is damaging for young people to have their attention narrowed to a 5″ screen for hours at a time, and the younger they are, likely the worse the damage is. Not so much actual physical damage, (although that is also a likely factor), but the lack of a wider field of attention, and becoming accustomed to that.

  13. smoker

    Another concern, particularly for youth who are still growing, would be the neck and spine issues, now known as text neck. I ended up with neck pain while working due to reading paper work for hours. I would imagine that pain, and perhaps permanent damage, would be worse if my neck had been at the sharp neck angle I see people using to text.

  14. Tim

    Kids 7 and 9 at home. The only way to manage (accountability wise) is a weekly schedule with days/times they are allowed watch TV or play video games (whether phone, ipad or TV). The schedule for not being allowed to do it is built around 1. things that need to be done (like homework) and 2. real playtime (daylight hours on the weekend).

  15. Pelham

    I wonder whether some of the separation anxiety induced by denial of smartphones is kind of legitimate.

    The phones that are constantly with us also keep us constantly in touch with every single person who matters to us in any way, 24/7. So, for instance, there’s no such thing as leaving the house to run errands and being all alone, detached and unworried for a few minutes. When I was a grade school kid in the early ’60s I would get on my bike in the summer and be gone from home all day, until dinnertime. No worries for me or my parents. Now, burdened with a smartphone, I’ll never again experience that degree of freedom. If I go out and forget the phone, I get a knot in my stomach and feel the need to hurry back. Yet with the phone, I feel I’m on a leash.

    Precisely because we can be in constant touch — not just with nuclear family but everyone else — we feel compelled to be in touch. And if that connection is denied, the dark suspicion must arise that we’ll miss something of grave importance. It takes only a moment of inattention — and disconnection — to lose something or someone precious. Let’s call it digital dread.

    1. jrs

      The best compromise is probably a dumb phone, if anyone needs to reach you they can, but no screens to stare at, no web to surf, or email to check.

      If a job requires one be in constant touch that’s a different thing of course, then one does what one has to do.

    2. Carey

      I had a good, formative experience regarding personal phones with a former boss in
      the early-mid 90s: on being asked if he had or was going to get one, he remarked
      “why on earth would I further enslave myself like that?” (paraphrase). Made a big impression on me.

      RIP, Chuck.

  16. Carey

    I think maybe the biggest screen-issue of all is that between parents’ screens and their infants and very young childrens’ needs, with the screens often getting parents’ priority over the little ones.. one sees this over and over in everyday life now, and my guess is that it’s having a large and negative effect.


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