By Sharan Mujoo
When a 5-inch electronic device constantly demands your attention, it can be hard to resist—especially when it can cater to all the basic human desires. A buzz and your Amazon order is on the way, another buzz and you’ve found a new match on Tinder, a sharp ring and you’ve just been followed by an Instagram celebrity. Food, dating, and social capital – all are available at the tap of a button. Add to this the fact that the brain is a lazy organ. In order to conserve energy, it will find the shortest path possible for obtaining gratification. Therefore, it should not raise an eyebrow if all this is making people addicted to smartphones. And this is not just a mere conjecture; it is a hypothesis which is gathering evidence day by day. The day is not far when it becomes a theory.
It is why Jana Partners and CalSTRS, two major investors in Apple Inc., sent an open letter to the tech giant stating their concerns about the impact smartphones have on the mental state of the children and the youth. Bloomberg quoted the letter as “There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences.” The two shareholders hold stock worth $2 billion cumulatively. At some point, the growing societal unease is likely to impact even Apple.
“Addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders”, the letter read.
Apple’s befitting response
Apple responded by saying, “We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them. We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.”
In fact, Apple already has some features embedded into its interface such as the ‘Ask to Buy’ feature which requires children to ask for permission before buying. However, the impact and implications are far wider.
Effect on mental health
There is an increasing pile of evidence which points towards the negative consequences of excessive smartphone usage. Researchers show direct correlations between anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and smartphone usage.
Applications are specifically designed to target the limbic system of the brain. By offering rewards in the form of instant gratification, the reward circuitry within the brain is hijacked. Gradually, the time threshold for attaining rewards grows shorter, leading to a craving for stimuli which make us feel good. In the absence of such stimuli, an individual experiences symptoms of withdrawal, oftentimes leading to anxiety and depression. The example of Selena Gomez should serve as a model for those who find this hard to believe. The pop star had to cancel a 2016 tour in order to address her depression caused by her addiction to Instagram.
As long as there is an intent to make the economy flourish, the current malaise of smartphones will only trickle deeper as more people come online. Moving towards the future entails an increasing responsibility on the shoulders of designers. Technology, in the days ahead, must be steered towards real-world interaction before it gets too late and the responsibility becomes a burden.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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