The anxiety faced in the absence of one’s mobile phone is known as ‘nomophobia’. Unlike alektorophobia, ephebiphobia, soceraphobia, chromophobia… and the woe-to-mankind list goes on, nomophobia has discreetly embedded and burrowed deep its tentacles into our psychology without so much of a conscious concession from us. Because our reliance on these devices to facilitate our everyday living is, for the general population, almost second to none, inevitably our psychology has evolved to acclimatised to these digital aids.
Case in point, even as you are reading this article right now, though an interest in the topic led you to this page, there could be a self-imposed chase to get through these words instead of approaching it with a leisured, well-paced read that facilitates appreciation (I’m humbled) and reflection. This ‘rush’, is a by-product of a digital age characterised by instantaneous and oversaturation of information.
Have we forgotten the pleasure of allowing oneself to sink into and be fully engrossed in an activity without having little virtual minions – Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Mailbox 1, Mailbox 2, Mailbox 3, (genetically coded giant minion) Snapchat etc. – wailing for our attention? And when you have nursed them all, you come full circle and the cycle repeats itself.
What we have gotten ourselves into, is a mental state of permanent activity, where available rest intervals get consumed by one minion after another. However, our minds need rest. Period.
Look at what an addiction to your devices can do to you:
1) Shortens memory
How does information find its way into our long-term memory? Via the route of Rest. Rest provides the pathway for those neurons to transfer themselves from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. This pathway is interfered or aborted when we constantly check and refresh instead of allocating designated time periods to attend to our social media, emails and messages. Any aha moments going off already?
2) A new kind of (avoidable) stress
Having our devices within our peripheral vision is a temptation that will split our attention as we anticipate new notifications and engagements. The mental reorientation, regardless of how subtle, required to return to the task at hand consumes cognitive resources that in longer span of time, takes away efficiency and builds up mental fatigue. The frequent micro decisions that are made between switching attention from one to another also builds up fatigue that clouds our ability to priortise the truly important tasks above those that can be attended to later.
3) Less quality in relationships
Most, if not all, of us would have experienced and will agree that having your mobile phone within reach, decrease the level of eye contact being made with your companion. Eye contact is essential for good quality communication. It shows that you are interested enough in what the other party is saying to give your full attention, and helps in the observation of changes in tones and expressions that goes beyond the words that are being said.
4) Wear and tear on spine
A study done by Kenneth Hansraj, Chief of Spine Surgery at the New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, reveals that looking down at a screen puts pounds of pressure on the spine that could range from anywhere between 27 pounds (12kg) to 60 pounds (27kg) depending on the angle your head is tilted forward. As a guide, 60 pounds is about equivalent to the maximum baggage allowance for most airlines. Over a prolonged period, such stress creates wear and tear on the spine and causes premature degeneration that might call for surgical procedures.
5) Physical exhaustion
One more refresh, one more check, just one more message – these tendencies take the precious minutes away from our sleep, leaves us less energised in the morning and causes lethargy at work the next day. Furthermore, the light that is emitted by our smartphones suppresses the releases of melatonin, which is the hormone that promotes sleep. Consequently, not only is the quantity of our sleeping hours reduced, the quality of our sleep is affected as well.
6) Permanent damage to eyes
We know the damage staring at the screen does to our eyes. Lesser known is the much more harmful effect when using our devices in the dark. We might already be aware of the increasing exposure of blue light we get with an increasing number of digital devices in our everyday life. The effect of blue light is aggravated when it becomes extremely bright in a dark room. Dr. Matthew Alpert, O.D., Chairman of Optometric Innovation, VSP Global, mentioned “Blue light is harmful, because it’s the highest energy wavelength of visible light. This energy is also able to penetrate all the way to the back of the eye, through the eyes’ natural filters.” That’s where permanent damage occurs to our eyes.
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We are the pioneer generation of personal mobile devices. The mental and physical effects that these devices have on us have yet to run its course to manifest on a mass scale that warrants alarm. In the human inclination of approaching our days as immortal beings with a ‘this will not happen to me” conception – though reality and logic tells us otherwise – we tend to diminish the precautions we should take in favour of the whims and fancies of today. Perhaps if we are given suggestions of practical and easily applicable actions that bring relief at the same time, we can then be in better control of our well-being in this digital age?
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