Are Smartphones Making Us Dumber?

By Vickie Milazzo 

We love our smartphones. There’s no denying it. In fact, we love them so much that we never want to put them down. Most of us constantly check for text messages, emails, and the latest tweets and Facebook updates at all hours of the day, whether we’re in a meeting, at lunch with a friend, or just at home in front of the TV. Of course, it’s easy to justify our smartphone love. They help us get more done. They allow us to stay plugged into what’s going on at the office. They help us organize our schedules, remind us when to pick up our dry cleaning, and manage our growing social networks.

But, our smartphone obsession comes with a definite downside. Our smartphones may be making us less rather than more smart and productive.

Being overly tapped into what’s happening on our smartphones isn’t a good thing.

Are Smartphones Making Us Dumber?

Source: iStock/Thinkstock/Paul Vasarhelyi

It prevents us from making the most of a networking event because we’re texting and emailing the whole time. We suffer burn out from always being plugged into work, and as a result, our overall productivity suffers. Our relationship-building skills suffer because we aren’t used to communicating with people face to face. And in some respects, we stop thinking. For example, if your smartphone died, would you know when your next meeting was, what time your flight was leaving, or who’s supposed to pick up the kids from school today? I know plenty of people who wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, when used responsibly smartphones can be great tools. But I think many of us would admit to allowing them to take over our lives. As a result we miss out on the opportunities that are happening right in front of us. And it shouldn’t be that way.

Here, I offer five easy steps to take back your life from your smartphone, recover your common sense and rediscover what it means to be productive:

1. Turn off cyberspace.

There’s no greater blow to productivity than breaking your concentration to reply to an email or text as soon as it hits your smartphone. Remember, no award will be handed out at the end of the day for the person who responded the fastest. If you’re doing nothing but responding to emails and texts, you’re bouncing around like a pinball. It’s also important to keep in mind that the purpose of email and texts is not to generate more email and texts. Unless a response is necessary in order for the sender to move ahead on a task or project, it’s okay to let them have the last word. The more you’re connected to your smartphone the less you’re connected to yourself and the important task at hand.

2. Tame the social media beast.

Smartphone apps make it fun and easier than ever to read our friends’ status updates and to see the photos they’ve posted on Facebook. It makes us feel good when they “like” something we’ve posted or when we’re tagged in one of their photos. That’s one reason social media is so addicting – it’s like experiencing human hugs all day long. Now that you understand why you like it, it’s time to tame the beast and take back your time.

Likewise, Twitter can quickly move from a social communication to an obsessive compulsive disorder. You can get caught up following every trending hashtag, but do you really need to know, or care about, most of the things you read on Twitter? Yes, there is some social utility to it but like we saw during the Boston Marathon bomber manhunt, it quickly turns into a lot of people feeling involved when they’re really contributing more noise than signal. Facebook and Twitter won’t be evaluating your performance at year’s end and probably can’t qualify you for a pay raise either.

3. Turn off the lights and your phone.

More and more of us are using our smartphones as watches and alarm clocks, keeping it plugged in to recharge on the bedside overnight. So long as your phone is plugged in, so are you. Take a break from your phone. If it’s by the bed you’ll get those late night calls, tweets and texts that interfere with precious sleep.

Plus, the easier you can reach your phone the more likely it becomes that you’ll check email in the middle of the night and find something that will really disturb your sleep. Can you really get the REM cycles your body requires if you’re still connected? Unless there’s a likelihood of an emergency, we have three rules in our house that we absolutely follow – the first is no smartphones in the bedroom. If someone dies overnight they’ll be just as dead in the morning and we’ll be rested and ready to deal with it.

4. Crunch kale instead of candy.

Games are fun but they have their place and that’s not at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table. Words with Friends can wait until you’ve had words and meals with family. Our second rule bans smartphones from the table whether we’re at home or in a restaurant with friends.

Checking your texts and email during a meal is the social equivalent of picking your nose in public or saying to your BFF “this conversation is really interesting but excuse me while I score three more points…” Crunch all the candy you want, but let’s face it, clicking your mouse to get points to build a hen house for your farm or sending someone virtual hugs, flowers, or groceries seems like a crazy waste of time.

5. There’s no room in the restroom for a phone call.

We all know that smartphones carry more germs than a toilet seat – so why contaminate your bathroom with your phone? As a nurse, I can confidently tell you that the last place you want to be sitting and using your smartphone is a toilet seat and I don’t care how many paper liners you’ve stacked up on that seat. Not to mention – you’re sharing your business with total strangers.

Though it may seem painful at first, making these changes to your smartphone habits won’t kill you. In fact, I think you’ll find that when you use your smartphone just a little bit less, you’ll get way more out of it. It can actually become the productivity tool you want it to be instead of a drain on your time and social skills.

About the Author

Vickie Milazzo

Vickie Milazzo

Vickie L. Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, is author of the New York Times bestseller Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman (Wiley, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-1181-0052-3, $21.95, WickedSuccess.com). From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a $16-million business, New York Times best-selling author Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. list of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Inc. Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America.

Vickie is the owner of Vickie Milazzo Institute, an education company she founded in 1982. Featured in the New York Times as the pioneer of a new profession, she built a professional association of more than 4,000 members.

2 Comments on "Are Smartphones Making Us Dumber?"

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  1. Lynn Lahie says:

    Great article and so true. Fortunately I’m not attached to my smartphone, but I see people here at work on them constantly.

    I’m sending this to quite a few people.

    Thanks,

    Lynn

  2. M. Franks says:

    It seems more accurate to say that the devices are encouraging stupid behavior, as opposed to making us dumb. Technology is now acting as a substitute for conscious thought in way too many cases …. and technology is often either inaccurate, or just plain wrong, due to the inadequacy of the user, mistakes made by the technology’s inventor, or inadequate information, all of which easily reside in silicon.

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