Opinion: 7 ways smartphones ruin our lives

Date published: Wednesday, 4th May 2016

Multitasking is now a fundamental part of our life that we are comfortable texting while we’re walking across the street, catch up on email while stopping at traffic lights.

And worst of all we check on our virtual friends using Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat while having a face-to-face lunch with our real friends.

Multitasking is when one of the tasks needs some critical thinking–listening to an important presentation while reading emails or doing homework while watching Gossip Girls.

This is entirely different from doing two things at the same time without needing any focus like walking and talking or driving and listening to music.

“Technology and specifically the smartphone is probably the single biggest contributor to the rise of the multitasking phenomena in our lives today. There are no clear boundaries now as work, rest and play all battle for our wakeful minutes.”

It’s usually the kids who set the pace in technology from the web to Facebook, Twitter, and then Instagram. The latest craze being Snapchat, where the kids chronicle and share their days within a few seconds under something called Snapchat story.

However, they are sensationalise their stories to keep up with Kardashians and so missing out on living their authentic lives.

There are many advantages to the new technologies, not least that we can access information no matter where we are. We can connect to people and places no matter how remote we find ourselves.

The Smartphone is a great tool that can enhance our lives and enrich our minds. However, we need to be careful so as not be enslaved by them and enamored by their novelty.

The scientific research, led by top neuroscientists on the dangers of multitasking and the abuse of the smartphone is exhaustive, and it’s being studied in top universities around the world from Stanford to UCLA.

These are the seven dangers why multitasking and the smartphone, in particular, is ruining our lives and leading us to be disconnected, dissatisfied and ultimately leading us to an unfulfilled life:

1) Multitasking doesn’t work

Multitasking simply doesn’t work and what we think is multitasking is only task-switching. Our brains are limited when it comes to attention and productivity and are set to complete one task at a time before moving onto the next one. As we switch rapidly from one task to another, we lose focus on both, our productivity suffers, and we limit our chances of getting fully “in the zone” where all magic resides.

Multitasking doesn’t save time, as it probably takes longer to finish two tasks when you’re jumping back and forth than it would, to complete each one separately.

2) It leads to mistakes and mediocrity

We make many mistakes when switching tasks causing almost 40 per cent loss in productivity if critical thinking is required. Any new information learned while multi-tasking could go to the wrong part of the brain as the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for organising information, is easily distracted.

Also, the prefrontal cortex burns up the same fuel, glucose, that it needs for both switching tasks and staying on task. This then leads to the exhaustion of the required glucose levels in the brain that in turn leads to mistakes and compromised work. And its little wonder that we feel exhausted and disoriented after doing two tasks at the same time.

3) It causes stress and pain

This repeated switching from task to task leads to anxiety as we need to make lots of decisions. So when you stop your focus on a task to answer a call or email, you are then faced with making a decision, no matter how small that is.

This decision overload takes its toll on us as it raises our heart rate and moves us from the restful-relaxed mode to the fight-or-flight mode. The brain now produces more adrenaline, and our brains are overstimulated causing mental fog. We become impulsive and start making bad decisions. This in turn raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to serious stress and depression.

4) It could lead to addiction

Whenever we stop our focus on the project on hand and look at how many likes we have on Instagram, for example, we feel this sense of accomplishment. This creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, so our brains are being rewarded for losing focus and getting distracted.
Also, our brains are wired so that we feel good when it senses something novel, and it’s the same brain that needs to focus on the task at hand. So again when we check our Instagram likes, we feel instantaneously good, and that constitutes a neural addiction.

5) It could lead to memory loss

When doing two things at the same time and both need our focus, then in reality we are acting a bit like a drunk would. We feel that we’re taking in what is being said but in reality we can’t remember much or apply the knowledge we learned.

6) We feel disconnected and miss out on life and relationships

When doing two things at the same time, we are simply missing out on the beauty that life has to offer us. We don’t notice our surroundings or our environment. It’s like we are missing in action in our own lives-Our eyes are open and yet nothing is being registered in our brains.

How can we see the majestic oak trees in front of us, the seagulls flying in perfect unison above or the clouds forming artistically like paintings on canvas while taking a walk and texting?

We are losing our ability to interact and listen to each other as texting limits thoughtful discussion. We can’t truly hear each other’s stories as a few lines of text hardly compares to seeing and listening to the other person in front of us.

How can we engage and enjoy our relationships when a family dinner in a restaurant turns into an occasion where all members are on their phones and texting away.

7) It dampens our creativity

When we focus on one activity, like writing, there is a power in that; it helps guide us to organise our day around that responsibility. We have decided and prioritised it as our anchor task. This feeling of knowing what to do with an end-result in mind helps us to focus all our efforts on a single task, and so our work is decidedly much better.

If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.
We are in a continuous energy-sapping race to respond to so many calls, emails, and the full range of social media updates now available. We have substituted being busy with doing meaningful work and are contributing less to our life and that of others.

When you look at remarkable people who have left their marks on humanity becoming masters of their craft, they all had one thing in common—Great Focus and Concentration.

For example, Leonardo Da Vinci would spend months on a single project. Steve Jobs, the inventor of the iPhone, which is probably the single biggest contributor to smartphone multitasking, was famous for his powers of focus and staying on one aspect of creativity for hours on end.

I want to be continually alive, and that requires me to eliminate all the noise that surrounds me, and all that impedes my connection to life.
I want to see the different seasons unveil right in front of my eyes, connect deeply with my loved ones and enjoy the small wonders that life tends to throw at us when we are mindfully present.

I don’t want to feel busy and productive but rather engaged in a meaningful life.

I want to be the master of my smartphone and don’t want it to become an obstacle to my growth and work.