Have you ever unlocked your smartphone for a specific reason and forgot what that reason was the moment you were staring at the screen? But five minutes later you were still scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, suddenly realizing you just wanted to check the calendar or an e-mail.
How many times have you been caught in a feed scrolling paralysis? I can confess that it happens so often for me there is no way I could count.
Spending too much time on the phone is the new standard, so everybody knows it’s too much, but at the same time no one feels the need to change this. This slim and glowy rectangular became an extension of our bodies. When was the last day when you didn’t touch a smartphone at all?
We can say about most smartphones that they have a minimal design, nothing clunky or meant to disturb us. We should probably thank Steve Jobs for being a minimalist and paving the path for minimal smartphones.
But how minimal are these devices, really? Before considering how much they clutter our mind, by actually making more space in there, we need to look behind the sleek design for a bit.
Kyle Chayka puts it extremely well in his book The Longing for Less:
THE IPHONE’S FUNCTION DEPENDS ON AN ENORMOUS, COMPLEX, UGLY, SUPERSTRUCTURE OF SATELLITES AND UNDERSEA CABLES THAT CERTAINLY AREN’T DESIGNED IN PRISTINE WHITENESS. MINIMALIST DESIGN ENCOURAGES US TO FORGET EVERYTHING A PRODUCT RELIES ON AND IMAGINE, IN THIS EXAMPLE, THAT THE INTERNET CONSISTS OF CAREFULLY SHAPED GLASS AND STEEL ALONE. (…) IT’S EASY TO FEEL LIKE A MINIMALIST WHEN YOU CAN ORDER FOOD, SUMMON A CAR, OR RENT A ROOM USING A SINGLE BRICK OF STEEL AND SILICON. BUT IN REALITY, IT’S THE OPPOSITE. WE’RE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF A MAXIMALIST ASSEMBLAGE.
We often forget about this maximalism behind our devices and take them for granted. The production of our smartphones starts from the mud pit mines that produce tint to factories where human rights are not always respected to using massive amounts of energy so that a ‘simple’ device can be born. And this is just one side of a minimalist-designed device.
The other side is the impact on our life. Of course, the positives are plenty, we know them, we love them, they make life easier and there is no need to demonize smartphones, but there is a need to see the negatives as well.
Various studies have proven over the years that there is a connection between smartphones (including social media and all the wonderful tools) and mental health, from addiction to depression to the loss of concentration.
A fairly new or better said less discussed mental health condition that we can get from spending too much time engaged with our smartphone is digital dementia. Digital Dementia (2012) was introduced by the German neuroscientist, Manfred Spitzer. He adapted the term from certain South Korean researchers who first observed this issue:
DEMENTIA IS THE LOSS OF COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING — THINKING, REMEMBERING, AND REASONING — AND BEHAVIORAL ABILITIES TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT IT INTERFERES WITH A PERSON’S DAILY LIFE AND ACTIVITIES. THESE FUNCTIONS INCLUDE MEMORY, LANGUAGE SKILLS, VISUAL PERCEPTION, PROBLEM-SOLVING, SELF-MANAGEMENT, AND THE ABILITY TO FOCUS AND PAY ATTENTION.
Individuals who rely heavily on technology may suffer deterioration in cerebral performance, such as lateralization of brain function which means the brain suffers imbalance. Damage to the right side of the brain is associated with deficits inability to concentrate, short attention, memory span, and emotional disturbances.
Most of us grew up having to memorize at least a few phone numbers, addresses, and other key information, while today there is no need for that, everything is in our pocket. Even when we try to remember something, such as the name of a product or a movie, we don’t spend too much time thinking, instead of taking an extra minute to recall the information organically by accessing our natural memory and using our brain, we just go look it up on Google.
We’ve become so dependent upon technology to the point that while by making more space in our brain by not having to memorize so many things, we are ruining it by not using this function, and probably filling our brain with thoughts that sometimes lead to anxiety.
Can we reverse this?
Experts believe we can still get back in shape, same as our bodies, our brain is a muscle that needs training as well. Lately, there has been an increase in promoting digital detox or just taking some time off from social media at least, which is proving more and more that something is not right.
A digital detox can be a good start, and this process is different for everybody. You don’t have to give up on everything, your goal could be to reduce your screen time by 1–2 hours. For me deleting Instagram for five days worked excellently, I was still in contact with people, but that mindless scrolling stopped. While it was for a short time, it helped me realize how much time I spent there, and now I am more aware of this. I also try to do things without my phone next to me, focusing just on one thing is harder than it seems. Even just watching a movie without texting or any other distractions is a good step.
Tanya Goodin, a digital detox expert, explains how a digital diet works as a food diet, and it is different for everybody. Some of us are vegan, vegetarian, or just prefer certain types of food, and it is the same when you do a ‘digital junk food’ detox. You just have to identify where you spend too much time and how you feel when engaging with different apps. A first step can be turning off notifications if deleting seems too extreme just yet.
Besides reducing screen time, using our brain more is crucial. Try memorizing something useful such as a phone number or card number, see Jim Kwik’s method for this. I shouldn’t even mention this, but reading should be part of your daily routine. Add some physical exercises to the mix and learning something new such as a language or a skill, and you are on the right path.
A phone is not just a phone anymore, and while owning beautiful, minimal, and smart devices make our life easier and more fun, we need to be aware that nothing minimal is behind the design or in the effect, they have on us. As with everything, moderation and observation are key. No need to throw away our devices, we just need to use them for our own benefit and stop letting them using our time and mind-space.