New technology and culture has regularly sparked fear among some members of older generations. Back in the 1920s high-powered people like Henry Ford and the brilliant journalists at the New York Times were convinced that jazz music was evil. Scientists in the Middle Ages predicted that the invention of the printing press would cause a wave of information that would confuse and harm people's minds. And today, researchers are saying the same thing about smartphones and the rise of social media.
Smartphones have a negative impact on the brain. They change the way we take in information. They increase anxiety. Some people even think they could cause cancer — a statement that currently relies on little evidence, according to the scientific community, yet is still being investigated today.
So is all this just more misplaced fear of technology, or are smartphones really changing the way we behave? According to Bentley University Cyber Psychology Professor Greg Hall, It's both. "The rapid pace of technological change has resulted in fear and anxiety among people trying to stay current with the latest innovation," Hall says. "And, smartphones really are changing our interpersonal behavior." Here's what we do know.
"89 percent of undergraduates experience phantom vibration syndrome."
I could have sworn my phone just buzzed . . .
You feel that all-too-familiar vibration in your pocket, you check your smartphone and to your surprise, you have no notifications or text messages. Are you going crazy? Well, maybe — but that has nothing to do with this mysterious phenomenon known as "phantom vibration syndrome." In fact, studies show that 89 percent of undergraduates experience this odd feeling around once every two weeks.
It must be a problem only affecting the younger generations, right? Not quite. Another test that studied medical staff — who frequently carry beepers and cellphones — found that around 68 percent of respondents reported the same mistaken sensations from their devices.
Fear of missing out
Phantom vibrations may be a little irritating for some, but it can turn into a nightmare for people that think they should be doing something else at the time. It's called FOMO or the fear of missing out, and it's turned into a common gripe nowadays. You scroll through a Facebook feed or Instagram and see your friends at a party or on vacation. Suddenly you feel anxious and a little inadequate. You feel as though you're missing out, and should also be doing something fun.
Sure, this feeling is nothing new. Throughout the decades, people who have stayed in on Friday night have experienced FOMO, but researchers have noted that social media has played a clear role in increasing these sad feelings. Some have dubbed the phenomenon "Facebook depression," and have reportedly found a connection between the amount of time you spend on the site and how bad you feel.
Short attention spans and poor memory
You can spend less time on Facebook and make your phone ring instead of vibrate, but it's harder to fix some of the broader effects of frequent Internet use. It all comes down to information overload. With the secrets of the world at our fingertips and rampant social media users, there's just too much to take in, and this leads to two problems.
- People who are constantly on social media and skimming the Web often have a harder time paying attention.
- According to some researchers, you only have so much working memory to use. When you spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter and the like, processing and storing memories becomes more difficult both because your brain needs to rest due to information overload.
Some may say that there's no reason to memorize things today with a smartphone that can access everything you need, but that's harder to explain at a job interview or while taking an exam.
Naturally, there are plenty of advantages to more accessible information and carrying around greater technology, but don't underestimate these other affects. Everything is better in moderation, and that goes for social media and smartphone use.