BY K. THOR JENSEN
Here are some reasons you might want to give your phone a break for a bit. If you told somebody 50 years ago that the most world-changing invention of the near future was telephones you could carry around in your pocket, they’d probably look at you like you were insane. But it’s true—mobile phones (and the data networks that have grown with them) have drastically reshaped the way we live in thousands of different ways. Remember when horror movies had people menaced by slashers with no way to call for help? Remember unfolding confusing paper maps, trying to find where you were on the road? Remember racking your brain to think of that actor who played a robot on that one show? All of those things are gone thanks to the incredibly powerful networked computers we carry in our pockets. With great power comes great responsibility, however, and scientists are starting to learn that spending so much time staring at our phones is actually doing some damage to our physical, social and intellectual lives. In this feature, we’ll run down the main reasons you might want to give your phone a break for a bit. Is this enough to convince you, or do you think it’s all overblown? Let me know in the comments.
It Damages Your Eyes
The human eye is an incredible organ, capable of a wide variety of tasks. Unfortunately, cell phone culture is drastically reducing the amount of long-distance focusing we do, instead locking our gaze a few inches away from our face and keeping it there. Experts advise that prolonged screen usage can be seriously detrimental to eye health, but they’re just not sure how bad it truly is. Lab experiments show that prolonged exposure to HEV light (like the kind emitted by LCD screens) damages retinal tissue, and the closer the screen is, the more of that radiation is absorbed.
It Makes People Perceive You Negatively
We’ve all felt a little annoyed when we’re talking to someone and they can’t stop checking their phone, but a recent study from the University of Essex r e v e a l e d that the m e r e p r e s e n c e of a mobile d e v i c e can make people have a negative impression of us. In the experiment, they paired conversational partners and had them discuss recent events for 10 minutes. Half of the pairs had a cell phone visible but not used, and half had no phone. The people with phones were overwhelmingly seen as less relatable and more negative than people without them.
It Can Damage Unborn Children
This is more of a niche issue, but if you’re currently carrying a child, you should know that a 2010 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health made some pretty striking links between cell phone usage and damage to your fetus. The study examined 28,745 7-yearold children, polling parents for the amount of phone usage during p r e g n a n c y a n d b e h a v i o r a l issues. The 18 percent of children w h o s e parents had significant cell phone use during pregnancy were significantly higher in manifesting behavioral difficulties later in life. This was an early study, so the direct link has not been proven, but it’s definitely something to think about.
They Carry Bacteria
It’s a given that pretty much any object we come into contact with in the course of a day is absolutely seething with bacteria, but cell phones carry e x t r a d a n g e r s because we bring them into close p r o x i m i t y with our ears
and mouth. A study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine determined that one out of every six cell phones in England is contaminated with fecal matter, and 16 percent of them carry the E. Coli bacteria. Washing your hands regularly will help mitigate this issue, but your phone is still a disease vector that can make you sick.
It’s Bad For Your Neck
You know cell phones are changing the world when they have medical ailments named after them. “Text Neck” is a new condition that has been springing up more and more in the last few years. The human head is a heavy object, and our neck and spine are designed to keep it up at a certain angle. When we tilt our head down to look at our phone, it increases the pressure we put on our cervical spine as much as 60 pounds, which has been shown to increase upper back and neck pain.
It Makes Driving Dangerous
Texting and driving is the new public health hazard, and people are worried about it for good reason. A study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that people using their phones behind the wheel double their chances of being involved in an accident. That’s a pretty serious modifier, and a staggering 213,000 accidents in 2011 involved cell phone usage. Of course, any kind of distraction is bad when you’re driving, but mobile devices are particularly troublesome because they continuously notify you, bringing your attention away from the road time and time again.
It Can Damage Your Hands
In 2013, the term “text claw” was coined to describe the cramping and soreness caused by too much mobile phone usage. Holding your fingers in the position necessary to keep your mobile steady while you tap and swipe can cause inflammation and tendon issues. Most vulnerable is the thumb, which large numbers of phone users employ for the majority of their typing. The thumb’s range of motion is fairly low, so it’s easy for it to get aggravated when it’s pushed outside its comfort zone. Typing with a stylus can remedy the issue, but who among us wants to carry a stylus for our phone?
It’s Bad For Sleep
Many people have a hard time putting down their cell phones before bed—when your Twitter interactions are going crazy, that temptation to take just one more look is hard to resist. Unfortunately, a number of studies have revealed that using LCD s c r e e n s — e s p e c i a l l y close to your f a c e — c a n upset your natural sleep cycle. The blue light that they give off has been theorized to inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Our eyes are accustomed to absorbing blue light from the sun in daylight hours, so when we get it at night it disrupts the circadian rhythms that spur us to rest at night and wake in the morning .
It Makes You More Stressed
A study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden attempted to measure the effects of cell phone usage on people in their 20s over the course of a year. Their findings were worrisome, to say the least. High mobile phone use was directly correlated to increased reports of depression in both men and women.In addition, a study from the Rabin Medical Center in Tel Aviv observed notably increased levels of oxidative stress in the saliva of heavycell phone users, which leads to the release of free radicals that can cause cancer and other ailments.
It Can Make You Hallucinate
Even when you’re not looking at your phone, it can still mess with your mind. A professor at Indiana University-Purdue University conducted a study on “phantom pocket vibration syndrome”—i.e. people thinking that their cell phone was vibrating to alert them even when it wasn’t. In her survey, 89 percent of undergraduates reported thinking that their mobile was vibrating even when it wasn’t. The fact that our brains are being rewired to constantly expect this stimuli can also lead to stress, with another study observing significantly elevated anxiety levels in subjects separated from their phones for an hour.
It Is Altering Your Brain
This last one isn’t a definite negative— scientists still don’t understand exactly what is happening—but it’s troubling nonetheless. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health hooked up 47 people to PET scanner and observed their brain activity while a cellular phone was kept close to their head. The scientists observed a visible increase of about 7 percent, but as of yet don’t know its cause or what kind of long-term effects it will have. What we do know, however, is that the radiation is up to something in there, and are you really willing to take that risk?