Tag Archives: Smart phones
People Use Social Media To Wind Down, But Experience Negative Emotions Overall, Per UC Berkeley Study

As the global epidemic of smart phone addiction settles into normalcy, new research is dispelling some common assumptions about its effects. For example, a recent award-winning UC Berkeley dissertation by then-PhD candidate and now Google employee Galen Panger refutes the popular image of social media as a vehicle for getting people riled up or venting anger and other negative emotions. Instead, Panger found that people tend to use the technology to relax:

“I think most people wouldn’t associate the word ‘calm’ with social media,” [Panger] said. “But one of the more robust findings of the dissertation is that people tend to wind down – feel more relaxed, sleepy, bored – when they browse social media, both Facebook and Twitter.”

Most of the time, it seems people start browsing social media when they have downtime and want to chill, like before bed or waiting for the train.

But overall, and disturbingly, the study found that people experience a “slight tilt” toward negative emotion when they access social media. The triggering of envy in particular is a big problem:

Panger found Facebook posts tend to be more positive than emotional life in general, with posts with photos of ourselves among the most positive. There is evidence in his dissertation and in other research that this spreads envy, a potential source of resentment and antisocial behavior.

“One implication for the general population is to be mindful about spreading envy with your Facebook posts,” advised Panger. “I think anything we can do to reduce the resentment floating around right now would be a good thing.”

It’s good advice, given that smart phones and social media have become ubiquitous, with few practical ways for people to control their dependence on and overuse of the technology. Perhaps limiting their use among teenagers would be a good start, to avoid what appears to be some very damaging effects on the first generation to use them consistently. And there are options to make your phone “dumber,” such as by switching off the alluring color schemes that make us want to check them constantly.

But as more research like Panger’s emerges, at least people will have information about the risks and can be more mindful of the impact this technology is now having on our society.

The Lost Smart Phone Generation

Smart phones are now ubiquitous and have revolutionized almost every aspect of our lives in barely less than a decade. The power of digital connectedness, convenience, and information is at our fingertips.

Yet these devices are powerfully addictive. They intrude on our in-person relationships and time spent together, as well as on our attention spans and sense of calm. They provide unrelenting access to stimulation and diversion that conditions us to a heightened mental state.

And now research is beginning to show just how detrimental all this screen time is for the generation of kids that only knows a world with smart phones.

Jean M. Twenge is a psychologist who has been researching generational differences for 25 years. While most changes among generations tend to happen somewhat gradually, she noticed an abrupt shift around 2012, right as smart phones passed the threshold of ubiquity. As she writes in a fascinating and disturbing article in the Atlantic:

Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

And these alarming results are traced clearly to this new technology:

The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that increasing physical isolation leads children to unhappiness, combined with the mental blur of interacting via a screen with so much information and social communities. We are basically conducting a massive psychological experiment on today’s children to see how they’ll react to the technology of this brave new world.

To be sure, there are plenty of obvious positives with smart phone usage. As the article points out, kids are safer and engaging in less risky behavior. They also have the opportunity to use the technology to benefit their intellectual and social development.

But these technologies need to be viewed with skepticism. As Twenge concludes, the best advice for a happy adolescence is straightforward:

“Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen.”

Keep Those Smart Phones Away From Your Body?

The smart phone revolution has almost completely taken over the human race, rendering most people into neck-bent zombies hungry for their next dosing of information or messages from friends, family or colleagues.

But maybe there’s a downside to the technology, too: harmful radiation.

A few years ago, California’s Environmental Health Investigations branch assessed the risks of cellphone radiation and offered recommendations for public use.  But the branch kept the supposedly “draft” document under wraps, until my UC Berkeley Law colleague Claudia Polsky and the school’s environmental law clinic students sued to have it released, on behalf of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Claudia and her clinic students just won the case in superior court, and she appeared on CBS Local News to discuss it:

Advice for those worried about cell phone radiation?  Keep the phone out of your front pocket or bra and keep it as far from you as possible while you sleep — especially for children.  Better safe than sorry!