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Jennifer Van Grove: The smartphone trap (or why it's time to put your phone down)

Jennifer Van Grove, San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

Are we raising digital monsters? Absolutely. And everyone from parents to Facebook and society as a whole is to blame.

So instead of playing the blame game, I think the most constructive way forward is to take every opportunity we -- not just parents -- have to put the phone down. In the bedroom. While driving. During meals and conversations. And, perhaps most importantly, when kids are watching.

"My kids have said something about (me being on my phone)," said Catherine Wood Larsen, a local parent of two teens who I initially interviewed last week for my story on kids and devices. "I'm just like everybody else. I will sit at a red light and look at my phone. But when there are other people's kids in the car, my phone is totally put away."

Like most of us, she's passively aware of the smartphone behavior she's modeling to her kids. Still, it takes an outside social pressure -- or stigma, in this case -- to actively do something about it.

Aside from modeling to younger generations a kind of life that isn't dictated by devices, the simplest reason to go device-less is this: We are happier when we're disconnected.

There is research that demonstrates that most everything you do on a screen is correlated with unhappiness, Jean Twenge told me when I first asked her whether we're raising digital monsters. Twenge, a San Diego State professor of psychology and the author of "iGen," also noted the exact opposite to be true. Most everything you do off of a screen is correlated with happiness.

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Think about that the next time you default to your phone to kill time. You may not feel compelled to change your behavior just yet, but just being aware of these kind of tendencies can affect gradual change.

I speak from personal experience. A technophile for as long as I can remember, I've been a proud early adopter of new technologies, gadgets, social networks and everything in between. Marry that with a need to be in the know for my job and you get a sometimes shallow existence often defined by being first to spot the next big thing, and a pressure to get digital approval in the form of followers, likes and retweets.

It's a mentally exhausting way to live. That's why I've made a conscious effort in the past couple of years to pull back, particularly from social media. It hasn't been easy, not when I've conditioned myself to find validation from digital sources. And not when everyone else has decided to play by the same social validation rules.

Can you blame us?

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