How many times a day do you pick up your phone? My embarrassing truth, according to my Moments app, is 41. Why do I pick it up? Well, because it’s there, and I feel a strange urge to see what’s on it 41 times a day apparently. My Moments app findings are as follows: on average I spend 2H and 36M per day on my phone. Of that time, I spend 23% of it on Facebook, 14% on Safari, 10% on messages, and 10% on the phone, 8% on Gmail, and 4% using the camera. There were 17 other apps I used 1-2% of that 2H and 36M, but I won’t bore you with those specifics.
As I tell my kids, if I forced them to sit without moving for 2H and 36M, they would go nuts. It’s screens that make it possible; tv’s, computers, phones. Think of what we would accomplish, what hobbies would turn into talents, what curiosity would turn into knowledge. Maybe right under our noses is a little guitar player that will never learn to play. Think of the exercise that could have been done in that time or the conversations that never took place. Reading can also allow you to sit on your backside, but since it increases that ever important gray matter in your noggin, it’s forgiven in my book.
Now about that gray matter in your brain. What is happening to it when you stare at your phone. To find out, I read several articles I feel are worth mentioning. The first, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201709/can-smartphones-make-us-more-absent-minded, is interesting because it differentiates between focused use and mindless use. If you go on your phone for an actual reason, such as to answer a call from your husband before he can say, “You never pick up your phone,” even though I have just been told by Moments that I pick it up 41 times per day, it is not as bad for your brain as mindless searching. I have to admit that I am guilty of this too.
I have to make a side note here because it appears that there is a human natural desire to stare at something mindlessly. In this day and age too many of us, too many times, choose the phone, but according to https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/ nature can have a profound effect on our brain.
“Building on advances in neuroscience and psychology, they’ve begun to quantify what once seemed divine and mysterious. These measurements—of everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers—indicate that when we spend time in green space, ‘there is something profound going on,’ as Strayer puts it.”
The article is well worth the read and will leave you feeling like tossing your phone to the side and taking a hike through nature. I’m not quite up for the swinging through the trees naked as one picture shows of a man, but he does appear happy. The article closes by stating,
“Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available, and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost,” the researchers wrote in their paper. It exists, they continued, and it’s called “interacting with nature.”
Okay, so I have to be upfront with the fact that I totally believe that the universe (that would be God to me) speaks to us often. Maybe not immediately when we ask, but He will speak. Anyway, I was working on this blog post and researching how smartphones effect our attention, and then when I went to church, the pastor said one particular thing that really stood out to me. She was talking about prayer and finding quiet time to speak to God, but in today’s world it is almost as if we are afraid of quiet time. What she said was that during quiet time we find ourselves turning on a screen because we don’t want to be alone with our thoughts. This really made me think because I know it’s true. We don’t know how to sit with our thoughts anymore. I have personal experience with loved ones and depression. Are we becoming a society so afraid of our thoughts that we are changing our brains? For me, quiet time and meditation comes back to prayer, but I’m not here to push that on anyone. Meditation of some sort, quietness in our lives, seems to be a human need that we are over and over again neglecting. What does that do to us? And since I’m on the topic of depression, another article I recommend reading is https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/30/health/smartphone-addiction-study/index.html. Here is one small clip I want to draw attention to.
“We know that medium to heavy multitaskers, who engage in multiple forms of media simultaneously, tend to demonstrate smaller gray matter area in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for top-down attention control,” he said. “Altogether, this means that if you are too dependent on your smartphone, you are basically damaging your ability to be attentive.”
Addicted teenagers in the study also had significantly higher scores in anxiety, depression and levels of insomnia and impulsivity, said Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, professor of neuroradiology at Korea University, who led the study.
The good news is that when 12 of the addicted teens were given nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy, the levels of GABA to glutamate-glutamine normalized.
“This is a common finding in the literature,” Yildirim said. “There are studies that have looked at how cognitive behavioral therapy can improve attention control and executive functioning.”
It really doesn’t take a scientist to tell us we feel better after a walk then after an hour searching the web or scrolling Facebook. Sure, maybe scientists have the tools to scan the gray matter, but as humans we were designed to know what our bodies and minds need. We just have to have the determination to get back to the basics and give our bodies what they are begging for.