Not-so-smartphones: Technology rewiring our brains and harming our intellect

Constant distractions are seductive

TAMPA, Fla. - At Hillsborough Community College, everyone is on their smartphone.

No, really, like everyone.

This is not surprising for Jaqueline Espinal.

"Have you seen anyone without a phone recently?" said Espinal, with a shrug.

Despite the fact that she is working both her iPhone and her Apple Watch, Espinal realizes that handheld technology dictates how she acts and thinks.

"I check them about everything 15 minutes," said Espinal.

Doctors say the average smartphone check-in rate for Americans is about 80 times a day. That adds up to about 30,000 times a year.

Even more concerning, new research says smartphones are rewiring our brains and heightening our reliance on them. That may not good.

There more bad news. A recent study shows that constant distractions like the incoming buzz of text message can derail us from the were we are doing or conversations having. You have heard of Pavlov's dogs? Yes, our phones are become the bells the dogs reacted to. A recent investigation in the Wall Street Journal was an eye-opener.

Instead of searching our brains for answers, our immediate instinct is to let an artificial brain like Google's search engine do our work for us. We are allowing phones to be omnipotent.

"A phone can be your greatest friend or your greatest enemy," says Frankie Padilla, another student, who is showing off his shiny new Samsung phone.

Researchers say the cure for our phone addiction is both very simple and very hard. We need to create greater distance between ourselves and our phones. You need to let your brain breathe. That might be easier said than done. But here are a few ideas:

  1. Turn off any and all notifications. Alerts you absolutely do not need are prime distractions and/or seductions.
     
  2. Designate times to "unplug" from technology (such as lunch, dinner). Espinal, the HCC student, often puts her phone in the "Do No Distrub" mode, especially when she's sleeping. Also, pay attention to how you feel during these phone-free times.
     
  3. Buy a watch. We are sort of serious. Checking the time on your phone is another rabbit hole to get sucked into. Ten minutes later, you are knee-deep on Twitter.
     
  4. Delete certain social media apps. Maybe make Facebook becomes a "laptop" destination only.
     
  5. Retrain your brain. The next time you're having a conversation with a real live human being, do not answer, check or look at your phone no matter how many distractions. Finish the conversation before checking. You just may like how it feels.
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