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Reasons Cell Phone Usage Reduces Happiness

Studies link frequent cell phone use to reduced happiness - here are reasons why

A recent Kent State University study links frequent cell phone usage with reduced levels of happiness and other undesirable outcomes in college students.   Specifically, it concluded that “high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPA, higher anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life (happiness) relative to their peers who used the cell phone less often.”

 The study only proves a relationship between phone usage and happiness -- not a causal link.  My previous article argues that excess usage of cell phones and other technologies does in fact cause the reduction in happiness.

This article suggests several reasons why excess technology usage reduces happiness in users.

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Reasons that Frequent Cell Phone Usage Would Reduce Happiness

Replacing Face-to-Face Contact with Screen-to-Screen Contact

I have written and spoken on this frequently, but allow me to summarize my argument.

  • Humans derive happiness and contentment from meaningful positive relationships and contact with other humans
  • Humans evolved to interact and connect with other humans directly; face-to-face
  • A substantial amount of communication and connection is non-verbal: touch, body language, facial expression, and intonation all play a critical role in meaningful connection
  • Reducing communication to simply words on a screen, pictures on a screen, or sounds over a speaker is like stripping the instrumentation from a song leaving only the lyrics – the experience is incomplete and insufficient
  • This incomplete experience provides less emotional connection, which is less fulfilling
  • Replacing face-to-face interaction with screen-to-screen interaction reduces the quality of these experiences and reduces the happiness and contentment that results from human connectivity.

 Spending Less Time Outside

Studies have shown the benefit of spending time outside.  As early as 1984, simply having a view reduced post-surgical recovery time in patients.  Other studies show that time outdoors increases vitality and improves ADHD symptoms.  Our species spent the first 99 percent of our existence as creatures of the outdoors.  Our bodies are adapted for that, from the benefits of Vitamin D from the sun to the stimulation of natural environments.  Attempts to make humans denizens of the indoors are doomed from the outset.

 Frequent technological usage takes time, as much as 52 hours per week.   Much of the time that was previously spent outdoors is now spent looking at a screen.

 Being Less Active

Spending 52 hours per week looking at an electronic screen often also squeezes out exercise.  Exercise is known to reduce depression and increase feelings of agency, thus increasing confidence and control. 

Regular Exposure to the Online Social Environment

In the world before smartphones and computers, challenging group social experiences existed only in the actual world.  Once home, a young person could relax, study, or unwind.  The ubiquitous nature of the online social experience means that every moment is a potential group social interaction.   Ignoring the group or responding incorrectly can result in negative responses from the social group that might be made even worse by the herd mentality of interactions that are not face-to-face.  As a result, the frequent online user often experiences social media as a minefield with embarrassment and /or isolation without constant diligence. 

Jealousy and Social Comparison

The Silver Fox (my wise mother) observes that reading Facebook status updates is like receiving holiday family updates. These annual letters focus on the highlights of the year and feature (and even exaggerate) accomplishments and successes.  Reading such letters lead to social comparison and jealousy. 

Luckily, these letters only come annually.  Facebook status updates occur daily.  Reading them without a grain of salt can make anyone feel uninteresting and unaccomplished.  

To conclude, the Kent State study is concerning, but I also see a silver lining.  As parents and young people come to understand the potential pitfalls of excess technology usage, they are more likely to become intelligent users and avoid becoming techno-trapped.  Mobile phones and technology are more often a blessing, but we need strategies to assure that we maximize their benefits and avoid the pitfalls.  Spending time developing these strategies is time sell spent toward living a productive and happy life.

Steve Baskin is the owner/director of Camp Champions and serves on the Executive Committee of the American Camp Association.

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