Science & Technology



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

Apparently, much of the activities we engage in online -- but social media in particular -- incorporate the same biological reward pathways as the best activities that offline life has to offer, Twenge told me, citing the book, "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked," by Adam Alter. Think sex or food. Our brains, when tuned into social media, can make us feel just good.

So I've backed away from the social media rat race. But I still need to sort out how and when it's appropriate to introduce my 7-year-old stepson to these services. Facebook, showing its hand a little too obviously, would say now. The company's recently released Messenger Kids app targets the under 13 crowd. We will be avoiding it. Yet the stepson already wants an Instagram account and can't seem to get enough of playing with Snapchat's face filters when allowed.

That's where things get extra tricky.

"I just finished a massive research study on how social media is affecting our youth's interpretation of beauty and self-esteem," said Brian Solis, a principal analyst with technology research firm Altimeter Group. "It's forcing young children to understand their place in the world (relative to their peers) and their net worth."

Talk about setting them up for a life of disappointment.

Plus, if I'm being honest, the phone habit has been harder to kick than the social media one. I'm as a guilty as anyone who has ever pulled out her phone to avoid awkward elevator exchanges or to fill dead time.

Look, I'm not advocating for a complete smartphone or social media blackout. No one, not even Twenge, is. At this point, there is no going back.

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I'd just like us to agree to be cognizant and recognize detrimental impulses when they strike. Maybe then we can actually retrain ourselves, and our kids, to put our phones down when it matters and see life beyond the screen.

About The Writer

Jennifer Van Grove covers e-commerce and digital lifestyle for The San Diego Union Tribune. Readers may send her email at

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