Billions of people have cell phones and use them every day. Smartphones are capable of doing virtually everything a computer can and you can use them nearly anywhere. Many of us claim we could never live without our phone, yet it often brings unhappiness. People feel like they need to have a phone that they can connect to all of their social media accounts, stay up to date with the news, and play games on, but recent statistics show that people are spending hours of time on their phones and often feel less fulfilled. Why is this and what can we do? A recent TED Talk from psychologist Adam Alter provides interesting information on the subject and helps reach a conclusion on how to stop this problem.
Alter begins his TED Talk with some intriguing information. Steve Jobs created Apple and rained praise on Apple products, considering them “revolutionary.” However, Jobs once stated during an interview that he does not allow his own children to use iPads and instead carefully monitors how much time they’re spending using tech. The same holds true for many others who work in the tech industry; they try to limit their children’s access to screens until they’re well into their teenage years.
During the TED Talk, Alter flashes an interesting infographic on the screen. He takes statistics from 2007, 2015, and 2017 and breaks out days into time spent doing certain tasks. Each day, the majority of our time is spent on work, sleep, and basic tasks, leaving us with only a few hours to dedicate to bettering ourselves and focusing on our hobbies.
Alter then adds in the amount of time staring at screens takes up during our free time. He focuses mostly on using smartphones and those apps and isn’t counting time during the average of eight hours spent at work. Since smartphones became popular around 2007, the amount of time spent on them has greatly increased to 2017, when nearly all of our free time is taken up by staring at a screen as opposed to doing something else. While this data is certainly not true for everyone, the average amount of time people spend looking at a screen when they have free time is shocking.
How apps affect us
Though it isn’t good to spend so much time looking at a screen, Alter acknowledges there are incredible benefits to technology. Without current technology, we would never be able to instantly connect with other people who live across the country or on the other side of the world. Families can stay in touch even if they live in different countries and it’s easy to reach someone during an emergency. However, the majority of time spent on smartphones is not for these purposes, which is why we need to re-evaluate our usage of these incredible devices.
Different types of apps have various effects. Research has shown that apps that help you better yourself can directly contribute to happiness. Apps that involve exercise, education, readings, or focusing on your physical and mental health will increase happiness, but a small portion of screen time is spent using these kinds of apps. Instead, much more time is dedicated to those apps that make us feel negatively, such as dating, social media, news, and gaming apps. People also frequently aimlessly browse on their phones, which leads to a sense of unfulfillment and leads to a significant amount of time wasted.
This information isn’t exactly anything new, which means people are actively working on finding solutions; we’ve known for a while it isn’t all that great to stare at a phone instead of doing more productive activities. Some companies have taken drastic steps to help disconnect people from technology, such as not having any emails sent to someone’s account while they’re on vacation or cutting the power to computers at the end of the workday to avoid having employees spend many extra hours at work. While these methods may seem a bit extreme, there are other solutions as well, especially when it comes to smartphones.
A big issue with wasting time staring at a screen is that smartphones have no stopping cues. A stopping cue indicates that it’s time to move on to another task, such as the end of a television show on cable or reading to the end of an article or magazine. People can continue using their phones endlessly without realizing how long they’re doing so. You could attempt to not use your phone after a certain time of day, but something may always come up and schedules frequently change. A good place to start is to simply avoid using your phone when you’re eating. Set it somewhere far away from you so you completely cut out the temptation to look at it.
At first, it might be difficult to not have your smartphone with you and you’ll feel like you’re missing out on events and important information, but you’ll eventually make it a habit. As you cut back on your aimless smartphone use, you’ll realize how much more free time you have and you’ll notice your mood improving. It provides you with the opportunity to cultivate deeper relationships with actual people. Smartphones are incredible technology that can benefit us in a multitude of ways, but we need to learn how to properly use them in order to maximize our own happiness.