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People use their smartphone to take photos of the L'Oreal fashion show on the Champs Elysees avenue during a public event organized by French cosmetics group L'Oreal as part of Paris Fashion Week, France, October 1, 2017.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC1CAB6813E0

By: Zafarullah Saroya

Put down your mobile phone, please?

Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, career or economic status, technology is overtaking our daily lives with every passing day. Phones, computers, tablets and other high tech devices have become not just an object, but for many a best friend. We rely on it to do everything from checking bank balances to investing, from sharing photos of the grandchild to chatting, and so on. Thanks to the smartphone, we can carry out a plethora of daily tasks, right from the palm of our hand. However, in spite of the fact that smartphones have made our lives easier, more fun and more social in important ways, there is also a huge downside to this technology. All the major research findings indicate that when we are totally immersed in social media, we miss out on real conversations and are incapable of original and deep thinking.

Do you constantly check your cellphone for email alerts, Facebook, tweets, news updates, and the weather? There would be hardly a few people who would say ‘no’ to the above question. It’s not our fault. But it is not a disease that can be cured. It is an addiction that cannot be lessened no matter how hard you try. And this smartphone addiction is viral. You will find it everywhere you go.

Smartphone addiction is a real thing, though it may not be an official psychological diagnosis just yet. The percentage of smartphone users who would actually be classified as addicted is estimated between 10 and 12 percent, according to the director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, Dr David Greenfield. Just look at the people hunched over their phones as they walk the streets, or drive their cars, or shop in malls. Observe people in line for coffee, or on a quick break from work, or just driving, or sitting in a restaurant. Visit an airport and you notice a sea of craned necks and dead eyes all staring at the screen on their smartphones. Clearly, we have long passed the days of looking up and around at our world to constantly looking down. Pakistan, too, is no exception to that.

Adam Alter, author of the bestselling book, Irresistible, informs us that most people devote between one and four hours on their phones daily and others far longer across the globe. These people also spend an average of a quarter of their waking lives on their phones, which is more time than any other daily activity they engage in except sleeping. For Alter, most people have spent a staggering eleven years on their smartphone over an average lifetime. This dependence on our phones is so prevalent that researchers have now coined the term “nomophobia” (abbreviation of “no-mobile-phobia”) to describe the fear of being without a mobile phone.

In a recently published, highly popular Op-Ed piece in The New York Times: “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain,” the author Kevin Roose confesses to his own addiction with his smartphone. He writes: “I’ve been a heavy phone user for my entire adult life. But sometime last year, I crossed the invisible line into problem territory. My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping. I tried various tricks to curb my usage, like deleting Twitter every weekend and installing app-blockers. But I always relapsed.”

The addiction that Roose is writing about has become a global phenomenon. Many have become so addicted to their smart phones that they find it almost impossible to cut the umbilical chord with them. According to Paul Atchley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Kansas, the reason for our inability to sever our ties with our phones is because we are essentially social organisms. This is why there’s nothing more compelling than social information, which activates a part of our brain that is hardwired to respond to unique sights and sounds. When we hear the sound of a beep, buzz, or a ping from our phone, there’s the implicit promise of new social information – it comes as a stimulus, which not only can’t be ignored but is also so powerful that it will lure us away from whatever activity we may be engaged in.

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