Are We Too Dependent on Our Smartphones?

Categories: CancerPhonePsychology


Smartphone and the new technology: Are we moving in the right direction?

Mobile technology habits and cognitive functioning

Over-dependence of smartphones has given rise to a generation with decreased reasoning and logical in-capabilities. The internet-enabled device has changed people’s social life. Today, college and University students have turned the device as their point of reference even without thinking of their own solution to the problems. Before the invention of mobile phones, philosophers and scholars depended on their analytical reasoning skills and did extensive research and publications that are documented even today.

Surprisingly, doctors use this gadget to browse for certain health solutions to their patients. Gone are days when people used to sit calmly in lengthy meetings and listen critically to the issues being raised and at the end make an analysis of the deliberations. We witness people excusing themselves to respond to phone calls and after the calls, they are busy chatting while the meeting is underway. It is not true that those calls are urgent but it is all about the obsession with the devices.

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The mobile phone was the greatest innovation of the 20th century. Since 1995, technological innovation has improved digital device and the demands of mobile phone users have changed greatly. Now people demand simplicity and more functionality, which has forced mobile phone manufactures to develop computer minded smartphones, which are so easy to use.

The benefits associated with this device are diverse and touch on nearly all aspects of human life. Apart from its primary function of making and receiving calls, the device can be used in other functions such as video calling, watching movies via you-tube, chatting on social media, watching live television, and many others.

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However, many people don’t realize the negative side brought by the new technology. The causality realized by prolonged use of the device has proved to give rise to alarming negative effects worth noting. People have integrated this device into their lives turning it into a basic necessity. What people thought was a solution to their social problems has posed a serious threat to them.

Weighing in on the impact of phone addiction on everyday life, Prof Halimu Shauri, a sociology lecturer at Pwani University in Mombasa, told Lifestyle that smartphones have had a “catastrophic” impact on Kenyans. “Mobile phones are replacing physical contact with virtual contact. They are replacing physical relationships. They are replacing families with virtual families, virtual friends, virtual colleagues,” he said. This is the phenomenon of digital a village.

In a matter of fact, it has been discovered that excessive use of the mobile phone can result in serious health problems. Its prolonged use is associated with heart diseases resulting from repetitive strain injuries. This results from excessive interaction of the device that makes the brain to suffer from fatigue. Prolonged contact with the light in the mobile screen and concentration is harmful to the eyes of the user. Indeed this has been reported to damage eyes and the situation is irreversible.

Research has shown that the electromagnetic waves emitted by these gadgets can cause cancer. We have witnessed a shocking increase of lifestyle diseases since the invention of mobile phones. This goes with the technological advancements of digital technology. The physically active man who used to move from place to place can today remain stationed since most of the communication tasks are digitally done.

Software developers have invented various applications compatible with mobile phones. This has made people spend all their time on the gadget engaging in the applications. The internet-enabled device has now limited the social distance but increased the physical contact of people.

Today with the invention of the application software and the internet, people can voice calls or video calls using online applications. This comes as a disadvantage to service providers such as Safaricom, Airtel, Orange, and the like. Of cause, this is cheaper and we can call in any place in the world so long as there is internet coverage. It is the essence of the digital village.

The academic sector is among the most affected by mobile phone addiction. The students use cell phones every day, with different applications installed that help in the implementation of various projects, communication, and professional development (Chen et al., 2011). Students in colleges and Universities use the device to browse the internet and get online academic services and social networking services.
However good the technology may be, its unprotected use has resulted in to decrease in reasoning capabilities in today’s academic sector. We used to have authors who purely depended on their cognitive reasoning skills in writing books and academic articles. Students use search engines such as Firefox or google chrome among others is stored in their handheld smartphones to carry out academic research. We are at the risk of having retarded and irrational community in the near future.

Over-dependence on smartphones and its addiction has resulted in a condition called nomophobia which is short for no mobile phobia that experts describe as the anxiety that comes with being separated from one’s phone. It can be deductively said that today's folks are inseparable from this digital device. We have witnessed Kenyans cutting short their trips and returning home or the place they last visited in a bid to reunite with their phones. Even while sited in the public service vehicles everyone is busy chatting and browsing the internet. You cannot even describe the looks of the person you sat on the bus.

Discussion and theoretical framework

Psychologists have been analyzing how smartphones are affecting the human mind. In fact, it has been discovered that forgetting of losing a mobile phone leads to a condition called ‘nomophobia’ it’s a feeling of lacking the device. Besides nomophobia, the behavioral scientists have also documented the phantom vibration syndrome, where a person thinks their phone is ringing or vibrating when it is actually unstirred.

The addiction to the new technology is inevitable but something needs to be done to minimize or eradicate the negative impacts. There are questions as to whether cell phone addictions are actual addictions, such as an addiction to drugs would be. However, the key question here is, can the contemporary society survive without smartphones?

The habitual perspective

From a cognitive research point of view, habits are defined as “an automatic behavior triggered by situational cues, such as places, people, and preceding actions (Oulasvirta et al., 2011). The smartphone application developers have managed to invent applications that stimulate the human brain leading to its continuous usage. Oulasvirta, Rattenbury, Ma &Raita (2011) opines that online mobile applications stored in smartphones can cause habits in human beings. Habits are formed through repeated acts in certain circumstances (Oulasvirta et al., 2011).

Habits are behavioral acts without self-instruction or conscious thinking (La Rose & Eastin, 2004). Habits can have both positive and negative effects (Wood & Neal, 2007). Positive effects of habits line in that, due to the fast automatic behavioral aspect, they enable multitasking and accomplishment of complex tasks. Habits give control over behavior in novel situations, where fast anticipation is needed (Wood & Neal, 2007). The same case applies to prolonged mobile phone use that changes the habit of addiction. The habits can also have a positive social feature because they identify a person because habit characterizes a person and predicts that person’s actions (Oulasvirta, et al., 2011; Wood & Neal, 2007).

On the other hand, habits can have a negative influence on someone’s behavior. They can cause unintended behavior activated by internal or external cues interfering with other acts. This is also called maladaptive habits, as people create excessive urges, for example, unintended smartphone checking. It could interfere with daily life; however, due to regulations or social norms, people are able to limit these negative influences (Rush, 2011).

Uses and Gratifications Theory

The founder of this theory was Elihu Katz in 1959. Uses and Gratification Theory" or "need seeking" is one of the theories of communications that focuses on social communications. This theory adopts a functionalistic approach to communications and media and states that media's most important role is to fulfill the needs and motivations of the audience. Therefore, the more these needs are met, the more satisfaction is yielded (Windahl, Signitzer, and Olson, 2008).

This theory initially focuses on the motifs of the audience (Ruggiero, 2000 in Seekhiew,  2009) and then analyzes the message and social system (Sarkisian, Nikoo, Saeedian, 1997). In other words, this theory concentrates on how users seek media and to what extent they are satisfied with its type, content, and method of use (Amiri, Noori, Basatian, 2012).

No wonder so many obsessive smartphone users can’t sit quietly without reaching for their mobile device, or find actual real-life conversations boring and too slow. They’re used to instant gratification, the thrill of receiving a non-stop influx of must-see material. A 2015 study exploring Internet addiction, problematic mobile phone usage, and cognitive failures in daily life found that among those with lower working memory and poorer attention control are less resistant to the distractions of digital media and technology and present higher problems with cognition as self-reported.

According to Katz (1959), the outcomes of media usage depend on why and how they decided to use the media. This theory works operationally through the social and psychological needs of individuals generating motives and expectations of mass media (Katz, 1959), and how individuals use media to satisfy their needs and to achieve their goals. Smartphone users depend on gadgets to satisfy their desired goals. U&G theory is commonly used to: “(1) Explain how the psychological and social needs of people give rise to their expectation and motivations to choose and to use the mass media that will best meet their needs and expectations, (2) Explain how people use the media to meet their specific needs, (3) Understand the motives for their dependency on a particular media, and (4) Identify the consequences that resulted from the needs, motives, and dependency

Marshall McLuhan on the Mobile Phone

Marshall McLuhan did not live to see the mobile phone. He died in 1980 before such gadgets became widely available. Yet the theories he developed about the effect of communications media on the human psyche can be applied to contemporary technologies that he didn’t know. Today, people are beginning to read McLuhan with renewed interest. The mobile phone just like television is a medium of mass communication that McLuhan alluded that, ‘the medium is the message’. In fact, this medium is growing to overtake all the other mediums as a result of the technological divergence.

The academic world doubted about McLuhan’s theory that has today revived and became a pivotal concern. We can now see the effects of smartphones on today’s generation both positive and negative. Therefore his theory is today seen as an example of a social theory that is confirmed by future events that its founder could not have anticipated. Look at how people have adopted and used the gadget in their day to day social life.

McLuhan’s central theory is that human modes of thinking are altered by our predominant media of communication. He divided history into several successive eras, each characterized by its principle means of communication. Hence the era of the oral word was succeeded by the era of the written word, which was displaced in turn by that of the printed word. McLuhan claimed that, in his own time, a new era of electric media had been ushered in by the telegraph, radio, and television. Today the mobile phone although its coming late becomes the focal point of this important theory.

Pettegrew, and Day. (2015) investigated Smart Phones and Mediated Relationships: The Changing Face of Relational Communication. This exploratory study provides an initial empirical base for communication scholars to reconsider their reliance on the treatment of computer-mediated communication and mobile technology (MT) as an addendum to FtF communication, and instead to recognize that individuals use mobile communication to develop close relationships across a wide variety of interrelated and converging contexts. Survey data collected from 526 undergraduate students. This is true for both close relationships and intimate relationships. We call for researchers to consider the transformational implications of this new communication phenomenon, how it transforms interpersonal and relational development, and specific research agendas that should be undertaken. The communication has quickly grown more complex and messier.

Gökçearslan and (2016) studied Modeling smartphone addiction: The role of smartphone usage, self-regulation, general self-efficacy, and cyberloafing in university students. This study investigates the roles of smartphone usage, self-regulation, general self-efficacy and cyberloafing in smartphone addiction. an online survey was conducted which received responses from 598 participants attending a public university in Ankara, Turkey. The results showed that both the duration of smartphone usage and cyberloafing positively affected smartphone addiction. The effect of self-regulation on smartphone addiction was negative and significant. In addition, neither self-regulation nor general self-efficacy had an effect on cyberloafing.

Salehan and Negahban (2013) examined the Social networking on smartphones: When mobile phones become addictive. It investigates the role of mobile social networking applications on mobile addiction.

Carina Storrs in her article “Cell phone radiation increases cancers in rats, but should we worry?” notes that “high-dose exposure to cell phone radiation increased brain tumors in male rats,” however “most studies in humans have failed to find a link between cell phone use and greater cancer risk.”

Nevertheless, researchers comment “that more work is needed to interpret the results, which some called "puzzling." The statement that cell phones can cause cancer has been not confirmed. The studies failed to prove that cellphones make a major risk to develop cancer among frequent users. The main issues while conducting studies are some people may not accurately report the usage as they don’t exactly remember how often they use the cell phone (excluding speakerphone or earbuds) and it is still difficult to measure the impact of other factors that may accelerate the cancer development for excessive cell phone users.

As research results require accurate findings, the scientists moved their experiments to rodents. In these experiments, the scientists “expose mice or rats to known doses of radiation that are equivalent to what people get from their cell phones.” Based on the latest research released by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the scientists found that 2% to 3% of irradiated male rats developed brain tumors, and 2% to 7% of irradiated rats developed heart tumors. It is interesting that the female population is less impacted to radiation waves and it composed 1% of developed brain tumors and 2% of heart tumors of the total population of the tested species. According to John R. Bucher, associate director of the National Toxicology Program tumors were of types similar to those in other research that found radiofrequency from cell phones is a possible carcinogen.

The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and associates it with wireless phone use. In May 2011, a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries met in France to assess the potential carcinogenic hazard from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless communication devices, microwaves, radio, and television signals. The Working Group made a conclusion that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification (carcinogenic to human)”. It means that a risk of hazard exposure emitted from the cell phones exists to cause cancer, and therefore, additional observations are required.

Updated: May 21, 2021
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Are We Too Dependent on Our Smartphones?. (2020, Oct 15). Retrieved from

Are We Too Dependent on Our Smartphones? essay
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