If you told somebody 50 years ago that the most world-changing invention of the near future would be telephones you could carry around in your pocket, they’d probably look at you like you were insane. But it’s true—mobile phones (and the data networks that have grown with them) have drastically reshaped the way we live in thousands of different ways.
Remember when horror movies featured slashers who cut phone lines, leaving their victims with no way to call for help? Remember unfolding confusing paper maps and trying to locate where you were on the road? Remember racking your brain to think of that actor who played a robot on that one show? None of these scenarios are much of an issue anymore thanks to the tiny computers that are always in reach.
With great power comes great responsibility, however, and scientists are starting to learn that spending so much time staring at our phones is actually doing some damage to our physical, social, mental, and intellectual lives. As it turns out, tech addiction is real, and there are a few major reasons why you might want to give your phone a break for a bit.
1. Smartphones Damage Your Eyes
The human eye is an incredible organ, capable of a wide variety of tasks. Unfortunately, smartphone culture is drastically reducing the amount of long-distance focusing we do, instead locking our gaze a few inches away from our face and keeping it there.
The light given off by our devices, or blue light, "can be used to treat circadian and sleep dysfunctions," according to a 2016 study. But it can "also induce photoreceptor damage. Thus, it is important to consider the spectral output of LED-based light sources to minimize the danger that may be associated with blue light exposure.
2. Smartphones Are Bad for Sleep
Many people have a hard time putting down their cell phones before bed—when your Twitter interactions are going crazy, taking one more look is hard to resist. Unfortunately, a number of studies have revealed that using LCD screens—especially close to your face—can upset your natural sleep cycle.
The blue light that they give off has been theorized to inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Our eyes are accustomed to absorbing blue light from the sun in daylight hours, so when we get it at night it disrupts the circadian rhythms that spur us to rest at night and wake in the morning.
Mobile phone makers have caught on, which is why iPhone and Android devices now have blue light filters, while apps are adopting dark modes to turn your device into something a little more pleasing on the eyes. Many of these tools can even be scheduled in order to automatically change with the time of day.
3. Smartphones Make You Unlikable
Studies reveal that frequent peeks at your device might damage your friendships as much as your eyes. A 2012 University of Essex study found that the mere presence of a mobile device can make people have a negative impression of us.
In the experiment, they paired conversational partners and had them discuss recent events for 10 minutes. Half of the pairs had a cell phone visible but not used, and half had no phone. The people with phones were overwhelmingly seen as less relatable and more negative than people without them.
4. Smartphones Carry Bacteria
It’s a given that pretty much any object we come into contact with in the course of a day is absolutely seething with bacteria, but cell phones carry extra dangers because we bring them into close proximity with our ears and mouth.
Study after study demonstrates that your phone is awash in funky germs; some have more bacteria than the average toilet. Washing your hands regularly will help mitigate this issue, but your phone is still a disease vector that can make you sick. If you want to clean your gadget, here’s how to do it safely.
5. Smartphones Are Bad For Your Neck
You know cell phones are changing the world when they have medical ailments named after them. "Text Neck" has been springing up more and more in the last few years. The human head is a heavy object, and our neck and spine are designed to keep it up at a certain angle. When we tilt our head down to look at our phone, it increases the pressure we put on our cervical spine as much as 60 pounds, which has been shown to increase upper back and neck pain.
6. Smartphones Can Damage Your Hands
In 2013, the term "text claw" was coined to describe the cramping and soreness caused by too much mobile phone usage. Holding your fingers in the position necessary to keep your mobile steady while you tap and swipe can cause inflammation and tendon issues.
Most vulnerable is the thumb, which large numbers of phone users employ for the majority of their typing. The thumb’s range of motion is fairly low, so it’s easy for it to get aggravated when it’s pushed outside its comfort zone. Typing with a stylus can remedy the issue, but with phones only getting bigger, your thumb will need to cover more screen.
7. Smartphones Make Driving Dangerous
A study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that people using their phones behind the wheel double their chances of being involved in an accident. Of the 37,133 traffic deaths in the US in 2017, 14 percent involved a cell phone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of course, any kind of distraction is bad when you’re driving, but mobile devices are particularly troublesome. It’s a good idea to turn on do not disturb functionality when you’re behind the wheel.
8. Smartphones Make Walking Dangerous
Phones can distract you on the street just as much as behind the wheel. In fact, an increase in pedestrian deaths in 2016 was partially due to distractions caused by smartphones, according to a March 2017 reportfrom the US Governors Highway Safety Association. Overseas, authorities are already addressing the issue, from "mobile phone sidewalks" in China to in-ground traffic signals in Australia and the Netherlands.
9. Smartphones Make You More Stressed
A study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden attempted to measure the effects of cell phone usage on people in their 20s over the course of a year. Their findings were worrisome, to say the least. High mobile phone use was directly correlated to increased reports of depression in both men and women.
The fact that our brains are being rewired to constantly expect this stimuli can also lead to stress, with another study observing significantly elevated anxiety levels in subjects separated from their phones for an hour.
One study conducted by the Korea University in Seoul, South Korea compared the mental health of smartphone-addicted teenagers and their non-addicted peers. They discovered that the teens addicted to their tech showed significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impulsivity.
10. Phones Are Altering Our Brains (Maybe)
A study from the National Institutes of Health hooked up 47 people to PET scanners and observed their brain activity while a cellular phone was kept close to their head. The scientists observed a visible increase of about 7 percent, but as of yet don’t know its cause or what kind of long-term effects it will have.
Another study found that people who constantly take in more than one form of media at a time (say, if you find yourself using your phone while watching TV) tend to have smaller gray matter area in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for setting goals and following through. Essentially, your phone is not helping you with that procrastination problem.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study conducted at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland found a link between the microwave radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless communication devices and neurocognitive functions in teens. Researchers, however, noted that testing on a wider scale must be done before a conclusion can be reached.
11. Smartphones Can Make You Hallucinate
Even when you’re not looking at your phone, it can still mess with your mind. A professor at Indiana University-Purdue University conducted a study on "phantom pocket vibration syndrome"—i.e. people thinking that their cell phone was vibrating to alert them even when it wasn’t. In her survey, 89 percent of undergraduates reported thinking that their mobile was vibrating even when it wasn’t.
What You Can Do About it
If you find yourself spending far too much time consuming digital media, not all hope is lost. There are ways to wean yourself off excessive use of both smartphones and social media—and you can make a change right now.
Tech companies also know what their product is doing to their loyal customers, which is why so many of them are now releasing features to help fight tech addiction. Both iPhone and Android devices have the means to regulate your tech usage. Even Facebook and Instagram have monitoring features available.
However, this does not necessarily mean that Google, Apple, or Facebook actually want you to spend less time with them. Remember, these companies make money by bringing in more dedicated users, not fewer. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that you are the only person in control of your own destiny. You have the ability to take a break and just put the phone down.
This article originally published at PCMag here