In our school, students are not allowed to use smartphones, inside the school and outside of it. This is strictly enforced, and violation typically results in expulsion. This sounds draconian, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Smartphones are addictive for children and adults alike, and that addiction does much more damage than we assume.
Only recently I read some newspaper reports that small children of age 2-3 years are not learning to speak due to excessive exposure to smartphones. Kids of that age learn to speak by imitating adults – so they need to be spoken to a lot. There needs to be a lot of conversation between children and their parents during those formative years. However, parents give their small children smartphones, and they themselves remain immersed in it. With both parties happy with their devices, no conversation takes place – and this results in delayed speech development.
One of the most direct negative effects of smartphones is that we waste a lot of time on it. One gets lost while scrolling down on numerous Facebook feeds, or waiting for someone else to respond on your WhatsApp. Or you binge watch one YouTube video after another, or get sucked in reading irrelevant, but sensational news. However, there are more indirect, insidious effects of smartphones that are not very well understood.
Smartphones are like slot machines – we frequently go near it, check notifications, refresh our feeds to check if there’s any new reward (a new like, comment, message, news item) that that’s on screen now. This is addictive, and it has been estimated that an average person checks their phone 100-150 times per day. The screen is really the new nicotine. No wonder Facebook is often compared to the Big Tobacco companies of the past.
This constant desire to check our phones fills all the dead spaces of our lives, and rob us of valuable moments of reflection. Earlier, when we were alone, or travelling, or waiting for a bus, we would often be lost in thought watching the world go by. That’s the way we would often get new ideas, get to know ourselves better. But now, thanks to smartphones, we are never alone with ourselves, not even for a moment.
This frequent checking of phones makes it harder for anyone to focus. This is especially detrimental for students. One can get better at concentrating in the childhood years by practising it – by working hard at solving a sum, by being totally absorbed in a novel, by focusing on the present moment. However, in those childhood years, if due to constant interruptions created by smartphones, the ability to focus disappears, it can have long-term implications for one’s productivity as an adult.
Smartphones provide shallow entertainment, as opposed to deep, immersive learning that can make us grow. One can learn by reading a long insightful article, enjoying a literary masterpiece, watching a great movie, or practising a game a badminton. However, most smartphone activities are shallow – a quick reading of an analysis-free news item, looking through vacuous timelines of other people, clicking selfies, and reading WhatsApp jokes – none of them help you become a better version of yourself.
There are other dangers of having smartphones in the hands of children. In today’s world, posting something unthinkingly on social media can have dangerous consequences. We read about a teenager whose Facebook post almost caused a riot in West Bengal. Smartphones are devices with immense power and potential – it’s not wise to hand one over to a child who might unknowingly put that power to a wrong use.