Cell phones are necessary in our life

Always online : How is the smartphone changing us?

German smartphone users spend more than two hours with their device every day. 41 percent look at their cell phones in the first 15 minutes after getting up. And 38 percent have tried to limit their consumption, but only two percent have succeeded.

These figures alone from a study by the business consultancy firm Deloitte from 2017 show that the smartphone has become an integral part of many people's lives. Sending messages, making calls, listening to music, navigating and orienting yourself, getting information, taking photos: the list of useful functions is endless. But now it bothers many people that they spend so much of their waking time with the device. Who hasn't caught themselves just checking something on their smartphone and then spending ten minutes doing something completely different? Meanwhile, some people have the feeling that all the comforts that the smartphone brings with it have a price. Many parents fear that their children may even be addicted.

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Many parents fear their children may be addicted

There is a simple reason why you constantly need to look at your cell phone: Apps are programmed in such a way that we spend as much time as possible in them. Especially in social media, our attention is worth money. The business model of Facebook, Instagram and Co. is to sell advertising. The more advertisements we see, the better for the tech giants.

At the same time, social media users will know the good feeling when someone clicks on "Like" under their post or photo. Or better still: if many do that. Similar to praise, the happiness hormone dopamine is then released in the brain. And when - to put it simply - the brain learns that a certain behavior causes happiness hormones, a desire for more of them arises.

“To maximize the time we spend with our devices, their designers manipulate our brain chemistry using methods known to cause addictive behavior,” writes American science journalist Catherine Price in her book “How to break up with your smartphone ".

[Do you test yourself to see if you are addicted to your smartphone? Click here for the test]

That sounds gloomy. But it has been proven that constant use of smartphones can be dangerous. All you have to do is watch Werner Herzog's half-hour documentary “From one second to the next”, which is freely accessible on the internet. It is about the most serious traffic accidents that happened because drivers wrote or read text messages while driving.

Mobile phone as the cause of the accident is difficult to prove

How many accidents are actually caused, nobody knows, "because it is difficult to prove that the use of the cell phone really caused the accident," says the spokesman for the Berlin police, Stefan Petersen. In 2018, cell phones were found to be "the cause of the accident" in only 38 cases. In the same period, however, almost 21,000 traffic offense proceedings were initiated in Berlin in connection with illegal use of electronic devices.

It is also frightening what psychologists from the TU Braunschweig found when they observed a motorway exit: Almost every tenth driver snapped it while using a smartphone at the wheel. Of course, one also has to say: Since cell phones have existed, it is much easier to get help in the event of an accident.

The question that - since cell phones became ubiquitous about two decades ago - seems to interest their users most is whether the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the devices is harmful to health. To this day there is no clear answer. The unclear answer is: Probably not.

However, at least in male rats, a large study funded by the US government showed that high doses of frequencies from UMTS and its predecessors (2G) can trigger cardiac tumors. Such tumors are rare in humans, however, and do not seem to have become more common since cell phones entered our lives. But because rats and humans are different, it cannot be ruled out that cell phones could actually promote tumors. And so far there have been hardly any research projects on the newer LTE and 5G standards. However, there are plausible suspicions and evidence from experiments that specifically 5G could be anything but harmless.

"Whatsappitis" - a new form of tendinitis

There are also indications for other, disadvantageous influences of cell phone radiation. At the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, studies were evaluated that looked at connections between telephone use and postural damage and pain. Result: Intensive smartphone use can increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. One of them is "Whatsappitis", an inflammation of the tendon sheath of the thumb that is typing and wiping too much. It has also been proven that late-night mobile phone surfing has a negative impact on sleep quality and falling asleep. A partial explanation: The high blue content of the displays inhibits the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.

The mere fact that many apparently cannot do otherwise, even in the already dangerous traffic, suggests that addiction is also involved. In fact, experts see an increase in online addiction since the cell phone was no longer just a telephone, but "smart" and a veritable pocket computer. Years ago, the so-called Pinta study (“Prevalence of Internet Addiction”) came to the conclusion that younger people in particular are at risk - boys and young men primarily through pornography and games, young women more through social networks.

There is a culture war in some schools

In some places, a culture war has broken out in schools over the question of how to use the pupils' smartphones. In Germany there is only one federal state that has expressly anchored a cell phone ban in class and during breaks in the school law: Bavaria. Cell phones may only be taken out here if teachers use them for a teaching unit. Heinz-Peter Meidinger, President of the German Teachers Association, is the director of a Bavarian high school. In practice, the ban can hardly be enforced, he says. Because the schools would not collect the devices. And so students would often just switch them to silent. At one glance, they would look at what is happening on Instagram or WhatsApp, says Meidinger - and cites a US study that even a muted cell phone takes up 30 percent of young people's attention.

Does the smartphone make you dumber?

Germany ranks ninth in the world in terms of average daily online time - adding up smartphones and tablets. The front runner is Brazil with an average of five smartphone hours a day. A study also came from there that found a 6.3 percent decrease in school performance per 100 smartphone minutes a day. However, as is so often the case here, it is unclear whether screen time makes you dumber, or whether people who are not that smart anyway use their smartphones a lot is unclear.

Because a day only has 24 hours, people who look at their smartphones a lot definitely have less time for real interactions with other people. Social life is also affected by the fact that the cell phone is checked during conversations, or that a call often takes priority and interrupts the conversation. Psychologists not only find that people are often distracted by their smartphones and prevented from focusing on other things, but that the mobile phone lifestyle also generally makes them more distracting. The ability to focus and concentrate on one thing for more than a few seconds seems to have diminished on average.

There are also indications that certain mental abilities are directly negatively influenced by the use of mobile phones. For example, teenagers in Switzerland who often had their cell phone on their right ear performed slightly worse in memory tests on shapes and patterns than their peers who did not use their phone that way. Significantly more research on this would be necessary. But the fact that something really happens here is plausible because the region of the cerebral cortex responsible for such tasks is actually close to the right ear.

Scientifically and also medically, most questions about possible risks have so far been answered as inadequately as those about the real advantages smartphones can bring, for example when learning. Only one thing is certain: in the past 25 years nothing has changed human life almost everywhere in the world like the mobile phone - and in the last ten years in particular the smartphone. That this will not remain without consequences for this life is as certain as the next WhatsApp message.

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