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COLUMN: Ten reasons to live without a smartphone

By: ML cavanAugh
September 26, 2017 Updated: September 26, 2017 at 1:25 pm
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The X is here. iPhone X (pronounced "ten") arrived last week to the fanfare we now expect from Apple. It represents the next smartphone generation; pocket-sized do-everything machines that have become part of daily life.

Despite smartphone companies' positive spin, we should recognize the real downsides that come with their overuse.

About 95 percent of Americans 18 to 49 use smartphones, according to a recent Nielson report, each spending many hours on their devices daily. This is because, like slot machines, smartphone users are addicted to the habit of pulling their device out of their pocket for the next dopamine surge that accompanies incoming texts or "likes."

With such use, it's worth considering what prospective iPhone X buyers give up (beside the $1,000 sticker price) when they're always connected. What follows are X reasons not to buy iPhone X, or any other smartphone, because the costs to your relationships, health, and happiness are too high.

I. You'll be a better parent.

Parents justify excessive smartphone use because it enables thousands of cute kid pictures, anytime, anywhere. But from the kid's perspective, these are thousands of moments where the smartphone separates them from mom and dad. Professor Jean Twenge's new book, "iGen," documents the impact of this and other aspects of smartphone-induced disconnection, seen in an interview with a pre-teen who reported her and her friends "don't pay attention" to their families anymore, and that kids nowadays "like our phones more than we like actual people."

II. You'll be more focused.

How many times have you hurriedly grabbed your smartphone only to find a meaningless notification?

Smartphones are distraction mines, set to blow at any moment, forcing users toward the urgent at the expense of the important. One Canadian study found attention spans are now lower than ever measured (even below that of goldfish).

III. You'll prioritize better.

Siri sings the siren song of multitasking. But studies have proven multitasking is impossible. Doing two things badly is no substitute for doing one thing well.

IV. You'll think more clearly.

Psychology studies are finding anxiety increases with social media use, the amount that's only possible when you're carrying around a never-ending photo contest, singles bar, and all your friends and family in your pocket. Constant worry over "missing out" clouds thinking.

V. You'll be sharper.

Over-reliance on technology lapses into complacency, or, as one Silicon Valley writer put it, "sharp tools; dull minds." One example: heavy hometown GPS use infantilizes one's sense of direction.

VI. You'll be a better date.

No one wants to sit across from a digital zombie or the guy that constantly goes googling midconversation. Professor Sherry Turkle of MIT has shown that merely placing a smartphone within sight degrades personal connection between two people.

VII. You'll drive safer.

Smartphones kill Americans, usually while driving. My neighbor's car was just totaled by a guy driving on Colorado 115 who rear-ended her while on his smartphone.

One large survey found distracted smartphone driving happens on 88 percent of American car trips, behavior which safety experts connect to a 50-year record increase in auto fatalities.

VIII. You'll be happier.

The nationally representative "Monitoring the Future" survey, given annually to high schoolers since 1975, has found teens with more screen time are more likely to be unhappy, and those with more nonscreen activity time are more likely to be happy. Additionally, Harvard researchers recently warned the public that Facebook use was "negatively associated with overall well-being."

IX. You'll be healthier.

CDC-observed American obesity rates have risen sharply over the past two decades, at precisely the same period Americans are spending enormous amounts of time on smartphones (sedentary activity that crowds out active pursuits).

X. You'll be fully human.

Like it or not, smartphones have reached the point of human connectedness only seen in dystopian sci-fi like "The Matrix," or Star Trek's "Borg." To be constantly wired is to disconnect, in some way, from humanity. It's time to step back and unplug.


Major ML Cavanaugh is a U.S. Army strategist, a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and looks forward to connecting via Twitter @MLCavanaugh. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.

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