The ‘smart’ route to isolation, anxiety…

Smartphones help us stay connected with others, keep us abreast with the latest information and make a positive impact on our work and personal life. In other words, it satisfies the need to talk to the dear and near who are away from us, take a photo and send to them, pay a bill, listen to music, watch a video, use the Internet, chat through social networks and, more generally, be entertained.
Thus the smartphone is by far the world’s most popular and intrusive electronic device.
According to the latest available Pew Research Center data, 46 per cent of smartphone owners say they could not live without their phone.
However, while the smartphone can bring distant people closer together, at least virtually, it can also make close people more distant. More generally, it can negatively affect the quality of time spent with others, a key determinant of individual well-being.
Becoming over dependent on this glassed device can bring some serious screen effects on the brain including feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious.
“Digital addiction can cause significant social and psychological damage to people who are in the excessive use of smartphones”, says Dr Hamed al Sinawi, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Sultan Qaboos University.
With the development of communication technology, mobile media has become the major communicative way for modern people.
“We often see people hooked to their smartphones all the day even when meeting others. They are addicted to the constant pings, chimes, vibrations and other alerts which they are unable ignore”, he says.
Very often the smartphone reduces the quality of face-to-face interactions and, as a consequence, their positive impact on well-being.
The result of this overuse, according to Dr Hamed, is mainly isolation and depression.
Researchers also opine that overuse of smartphones is just like any other type of substance abuse.
“The behavioural addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually,” reveals Erik Peper from San Francisco State University in the US.
In a survey of 135 students, the researchers have found that students who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious.
According to the study, published in the journal NeuroRegulation, they believe the loneliness is partly a consequence of replacing face-to-face interaction with a form of communication where body language and other signals cannot be interpreted.
The researchers also found that those same students almost constantly multitasked while studying, watching other media, eating or attending class.
This constant activity allows little time for bodies and minds to relax and regenerate, said Peper, and also results in “semi-tasking,” where people do two or more tasks at the same time — but half as well as they would have if focused on one task at a time.
The researchers noted that digital addiction is not our fault but a result of the tech industry’s desire to increase corporate profits.
“Push notifications, vibrations and other alerts on our phones and computers make us feel compelled to look at them by triggering the same neural pathways in our brains that once alerted us to imminent danger, such as an attack by a tiger or other large predator,” Pepper said.
But, according to the researchers, we can take charge and train ourselves to be less addicted to our phones and computers.
The first step is recognising that tech companies are manipulating our innate biological responses to danger.
Peper suggested that we should turn off push notifications, only respond to email and social media at specific times to focus on important tasks.