Why should I stop using a smartphone?

Phubbing trend : Why we keep staring at the smartphone

A situation that happens a thousand times a day in Germany: You sit while eating and stare at your cell phone. The latest status reports on Facebook, WhatsApp messages and breaking news from all over the world are more important than the person to whom you are dealing. This phenomenon is called phubbing, an artificial word made up of the words "phone" and "stubbing". The Australian student Alex Heigh has started the “Stop Phubbing” campaign, with which he wants to draw attention to the moral decline in society. The site already has 27,000 Facebook fans. What does the phenomenon reveal about social conditions?

Last year, social scientists from the University of Sussex conducted a study that looked at how smartphones affect interactions. The researchers divided the subjects into conversation pairs and encouraged them to talk about interesting events they had experienced in the past few days. Once with a cell phone in hand, once with a notepad. After ten minutes of conversation, the participants should provide information about the mutual relationship. "Can my partner and I become friends?" Those who had a cell phone in front of them answered the question consistently more negatively. The answer was more positive for the conversation pairs with Block. The subjects came closer in the conversation. The researchers concluded that the cell phone "hinders friendships by reducing the individual's commitment and attention to the partner".

There is therefore no reason to be pessimistic about culture yet. After all, there are also couples who - quite analogously - keep silent while eating. That too is not communicative. With smartphones, however, communication takes place via other channels. We look at our smartphone a good 150 times a day. Some people look at the display more often than in their spouse's eyes. So are we smartphone junkies? Phil Reed, professor of psychology at Swansea University in Wales, who has done a lot of research on the phenomenon, tells Tagesspiegel: “It is not clear whether people are addicted to smartphones, although the existence of phantom vibration, if we think wrongly that the phone vibrates suggests some form of addiction. What is clearer, however, is that people are addicted to what the smartphone can do - internet, social networks and so on. "

The mood sinks without a smartphone

According to Reed's definition, there are three criteria that can be used to determine addictive behavior: First, an increased need, which people show when they spend up to 60 percent of their daily routine online. Second, negative effects if internet consumption is stopped. And third, what the psychologist calls “breakthroughs in everyday life”, such as phubbing. “Our work has shown that heavy Internet users experience negative mood swings when they stop surfing,” states psychology professor Reed.

But what is the attraction of staring at the cell phone all the time? Business calls and emails seem annoying in our private lives. After all, we don't want the boss or friends to bother us all the time. Then why are we phubbing? Can't we switch off?

In science there are roughly two schools of thought that explain why the Internet is addictive. On the one hand, Internet use is immediate and powerful. You can find things immediately, get rewards, and follow events in real time. Smartphones make the Internet even more accessible - and more attractive. "It enables some people to escape from reality," says Reed. On the other hand, it can be used to fill “empty moments” - for example after the waiter in the restaurant has taken the order. “We see all of these elements in other addictions as well. Internet addiction is, at least from a psychological point of view, not much different from normal addiction patterns. ”Surfing on the smartphone is, one could exaggerate, something like caffeine for the nerves.

The question is: what actually happens in our brain? “The influence of smartphones on the brain is still a hot topic,” says Reed. “There are two subject areas that have to be distinguished. On the one hand, the influence of the smartphone itself - some people fear that it is dangerous, for example because of the radiation. On the other hand, the functions of the smartphone. This seems to have an impact on the brain, especially in the shrinking of the prefrontal cortex, i.e. the structure that is responsible for planning and impulse control. As far as the influence of heavy internet use is concerned, there are clear effects on the cognition and mood of the individual. For example, if a person is impulsive or has behavioral problems, these problems are exacerbated. "

Are we changing for better - or for worse?

Stimuli pour down on us everywhere. Ads pop up, the cell phone rings. Scientists have no doubt that the neural connections will change in the process. Only: does it change for the better? Or for the worse? In his bestseller "Digital Dementia", the brain researcher Manfred Spitzer claims that computers and smartphones make children stupid. The catchy thesis - “We'll click our brains away” - is poorly empirically proven and populistically mounted. Several media outlets panned the book.

Beyond this alarmism, there is a more serious, less agitated debate. The psychologist Simon Hampton from the University of East Anglia advocates the thesis that the smartphone is becoming a kind of Swiss army knife in the digital world - a banal tool with various functions. This functionality is also emphasized by Jordan Grafman, professor of neurology at Northwestern University in Illinois. “Smartphones are just another object that we use,” he says. “Our brain adapts to these technologies, just like it was with the telephone.” Grafman makes a differentiated judgment with regard to the implications. “The use of smartphones changes us positively insofar as it helps us orientate ourselves and allows us to transmit information more quickly. But it changes us negatively insofar as we use the smartphone as a substitute for social communication. Central aspects of social communication such as presence, gestures and facial expressions are eliminated. "

For example with phubbing. We cannot check Facebook messages and chat with the other person at the same time. Multitasking is a myth, says Grafman. “Multitasking seems to be more efficient in some ways, but it doesn't make us smarter.” Conversation among many becomes more superficial. And whoever phubs is also rude to the third party.

Not only can phubbers be criticized for bad manners - they also leave a huge environmental footprint. As the Digital Power Group found out, a wireless connection with a data volume of 2.8 gigabytes consumes more energy than a standard refrigerator. This gives phubbing an ecological dimension in addition to the social one. Phubbers are environmental polluters. But as with everything, it comes down to the right amount. In a digitally networked world, switching off is not an option - but rest breaks are. Where and when to answer messages is up to you. One should not join the chorus of critics who generally dismiss the Internet as “the devil's stuff”. There is, if you will, a digital dialectic - between reaction and reflection. In the digital economy, too, we have to prioritize tasks - and decide which is more important: the partner or the smartphone.

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