Are Smartphones Making Us Dumber?

Why Cell Phones Are Hurting This Generation 

 Missy Hill

Opposing Opinions

Photo: Boston University

The Cell Phone Revolution

Why Cell Phones Are Integral to Our Modern World

Karuna Lakhiani

January 15th, 2018

Smart phones distract us constantly: notifying us to respond now, right now, or else the universe will crumble and we will lose all hope in any capacity. In other cases, perhaps we are monitoring them with undying verve to wait for that “like” to come through or that text message or to see that picture of…oh, wait… the party we weren’t invited to.


Cell phones have become a major part of society; there is no denying that. In the last few years, the smartphone has fabricated its own micro (or macro) society. No doubt, life is different now that cell phones have integrated into our society. They allow us to connect across the world and give us instantaneous access to rich databases and the current happenings of the globe. But, is it possible that we have lost something?


Smartphones are extremely useful, but a key question to consider is whether we absolutely need to have the phones we keep in our pockets constantly, with all the functions of a home computer system or laptop. Why do we need something more than a device that can make phone calls?


We are more connected and talking to more people than we ever have. I love that I can stay so closely connected to my friends who live across the world. This degree of connectedness was unheard of twenty years ago. A bright side to cell phones is that communicating with friends when it is hard to meet in person makes social interaction more frequent, even though the quality of that interaction may not be as good as in-person communication.


This makes social action attainable to the average citizen around the world. I can state my beliefs and advocate for causes and share that work with the entire world in a couple of clicks. A student-organization like Side-by-Side can reach people across the world and spread the mission of providing unbiased media to more people than could be reached otherwise.


All of this can occur on our mobile devices that are in our pockets, which provide us with all kinds of information, so we no longer have to spend time memorizing cold hard fact but instead can learn how to use those facts creatively to better our society faster than ever. Progress is accelerating because new information has never been so widely available. However, there are also some dark realities of life on the web, and the fact that we carry it around with us.


Smartphones make us live in two realities simultaneously: the right here, right now, and the virtual world. We can switch between these two worlds very quickly, and it is easy to forget which we are living in. Things that go over well during live interaction simply do not work through screens. Many people can relate to the scenario of spending time with a friend, only for that friend to be scrolling or texting the entire time. Or, there is the scenario of a group sitting around a table at a restaurant. As soon as the conversation quiets down, there they are, on their phones, looking down, and missing out on the time spent with others.


Smartphones are extremely distracting. They mess with our brains, with everything from phantom ring syndrome to distress over how many likes one gets, to that aching feeling one experiences when scrolling through social media to see everything that happened at the event to which the user was not invited. This is all a lonely experience. Looking at social media can make us believe in fabricated situations. Yes, that person has a huge smile in that picture, but how happy is that person really? This is dangerous because if all we do is see how great everyone else’s life is going and we do not see any of the bad parts, we feel more and more alone on our bad days.


Often times, kids who are not ready to handle the Internet have it in their pockets. Cyber-bullying, social isolation, and dangerous situations can arise very quickly. We hear stories all the time; it is much easier to be mean to someone over Internet communications or anonymous chats than it is to be mean to someone when you’re looking them in the face. All the drama can occur through complex networks and on nuanced profiles, while people act like nothing happened when they actually see each in the real world.


The Internet is supposed to make information readily accessible, but a large amount of that information is unreliable. Misinformation has become too accessible with the rise of the Internet. One of the founding principles of Side-by-Side was to combat the issue of search engines’ catering to the political preferences of their users. I can get all the fake news, fake facts, fake data, and misinformed opinions I want. It is all at my fingertips! Additionally, I have the ability to post any fake information I want at any time. It is almost too easy to spread misinformation to others. Presenting something completely false as objective truth causes regression.


On the contrary, having a smartphone can certainly reduce danger in tough situations. We can call someone if we feel uncomfortable or unsafe, we can have a car come pick us up in minutes, and we can navigate confusing metropolitan areas. We can be much more independent than we could in the pre-smartphone era. Smart phones do provide some level of safety—it is good to be able to make a phone call in an uncomfortable situation. This is a task that a non-smart cell phone can achieve, however. There is a pro-smartphone argument that access to digital maps and the ability to call for a ride make independence much more attainable in unfamiliar areas. There is something to be said, however, for the loss in personal contact when that happens. We miss out on meeting the helpful stranger who gives directions and, in the meantime, mentions a favorite restaurant on that side of town, or even a deeply meaningful childhood memory. We lose unpredictability – there is no more getting lost. This is very good on the surface, but being connected through millions of distinct networks often takes away as much if not more freedom than it grants. It is almost as though as we burst into the future, we lose the interactions that help us remember and improve upon the past, the cultures of towns no longer communicated to strangers before filtered through ratings and comments online. These are taken as facts when there is often much more to a certain place than what a few online commenters have discussed.


The Internet is not bad. It has many good purposes, and a lot of the networking and communication it enables has pushed progress forward. We just have to be careful not to abuse the Internet, and when we have it on us 24/7 with smartphones, that becomes all too possible. Whether we like it or not, though, smartphones are here, and they have changed how we function. Moping about the downfall of society and the loss of social interaction and experiencing other human experiences is not productive to fixing any of the problems. Perhaps, it is time to accept it and make the best of it, but it is important to take precautions, to be safe, to treat each other kindly, and to take time away from screens. I try to make a point of not having my phone on my person the entire day, or to at least not have the sound on for some periods of time. Without conscious effort to get some space, we have them within arm’s reach as we sleep, we keep them in our pockets or our hands, we have them on the table or desk, we take them to the bathroom. Smartphones are not smarter than we are, but we should not define ourselves by our virtual selves. More than half of the day should not be spent bent over a screen. I think we would all be a little happier if we got outside, met with friends for some real food, and laughed at conversations in person every once in awhile.

As owning a smartphone becomes a more and more natural part of modern life, several concerns have arisen, such as too much time spent on social media, psychological effects of time spent on the Internet, security, and child safety. While there are still many areas to address, one cannot lose hope for the positive effects of technology. If used correctly, cell phones can revolutionize productivity, safety, and communication.


The Internet is relatively new, and many do not understand it. Those who worry about cell phones corrupting society have valid arguments when we find groups of people looking at their screens in public and isolating themselves by placing screens between themselves and reality, but this is an extreme overuse of a technology; one that should be present in a balanced way. There is no stopping the cell phone revolution, so we must embrace it and make the best of it.


For example, it can be argued that social media’s filter of the world into something perfect creates an unrealistic standard for the kid sitting at home scrolling through Instagram to see how perfect everyone else’s life is. Social media can serve to connect, not isolate, however. Now that the Internet is widely accessible, physical distance no longer impedes communication. Social media connects friends who are miles apart and spreads messages instantly. Any person with Internet access can tell the entire globe something.


Smartphones make diverse media accessible. Voters can access information to place informed votes, and it is easy to read various publications. Though some sites filter media to cater to the opinions of the user, with some proactivity, a reader can find multitudes of perspectives.


Cell phones also make individuals more independent and secure. People do not have to worry as much they used to about being alone, because they can call the police from their cell phones or use tracking technology to have someone else monitor their location remotely.


Education has been revolutionized with the introduction of cell phones. Students can find a multitude of factual information on the Internet, so more time in class can be devoted to how to synthesize information, not just memorize it. Cell phones also make it easier for teachers to keep in touch with their students; certain apps mean teachers can send updates and reminders out to their students. The classroom is forever changed, and forever more efficient because of cell phones.


Without the access to cell phones, how would we be able to connect to people all over the world? How would we make friendships thousands of miles apart that can last lifetimes? Smartphones make it possible to bridge the divide between the citizens of different countries and various cultures. And it's easier and quicker than when children would write letters to their pen pals overseas; now, instead of waiting weeks for a letter, we wait mere seconds for a response. Technology also allows more than just children to interact with other people of the would; it lets people of all ages do this as well.


Cell phones not only mean interaction with people, but also literature. Reading books online is more cost efficient and easier than reading paperback books. Yes, no one can ignore that unmistakable scent of printed words on paper or being able to physically feel the pages turn and crinkle in your hands or even having the satisfaction of a worn-out book cover be yours. But while reading paperbacks will always be timeless, there is now the possibility of not having to deal with the lugging around dozens of books with you; we can have our own library everywhere we go on this little device. Also, think about how much more paper (and how many more trees) we are saving by buying books online rather than buying them in stores. Plus, it is way cheaper buying a book online than buying it as a paperback; one of my favorite series of books is double the price in stores than it is online, and thanks to iBooks or Kindle, I can spend the other half of that money on my other love: food.


Cell phones give us the option to be responsible when it comes to socializing and communication. Children are able to go off on their own and hang out with their friends and update their parents or siblings when plans are constantly changing. It gives children some responsibility and the opportunity to be more efficient with managing their time and schedules. Also, it helps ease the worries of parents because their children can call authoritative forces when they are in danger. Cell phones allow us to communicate more systematically with our parents, which enables us to be more independent; when parents give us cell phones, they are also giving us their trust, and that gives us a sense of independence that makes us learn how to be reliable with our parents and how to handle this new maturity. But the responsibility isn’t just put into the hands of children; it can apply to all ages. Cell phones permit us to call someone when we are running late and say, “Hey, I got held up at work, but don’t leave because I’ll be there in ten minutes!” We also have the ability to call an Uber or Lyft when we need a ride somewhere instead of trying to hail a taxi on the side of a busy street. Without the technology of smartphones, we wouldn’t have the power to become more responsible growing up and as adults communicating with our peers effectively.


It is a matter of personal responsibility: use the cell phone to communicate, not isolate. Misuse of the technology is the problem, not the technology itself. Children must be educated on Internet safety and productivity. With conscious effort, the future looks bright.