Krystine I. Batcho
Source: Krystine I. Batcho

While you were scrutinizing your smart device, you might have missed:

  • A flock of geese flying overhead in formation.
  • A toddler laughing at a balloon.
  • The opportunity to help your neighbor juggling packages.
  • The man who smiled at you as he passed by.
  • An older man with a cane, who would have reminded you of your dad.
  • The puppy and the boy who hugged him.
  • Your child’s glance in need of encouragement during the soccer game.
  • The woman with a Survivor T-shirt sitting next to you at the counter.
  • The facial expression that contradicted your spouse’s assurance that everything is okay.
  • Your shy friend who wasn’t able to join in the conversation.
  • The cloud shaped like a swan as it floated across the deep blue sky.
  • Your daughter’s disappointment when you failed to notice her accomplishment.

Statistics have shown how smartphone distraction can increase our risk of injury from a variety of accidents. Research suggests an association between device distraction and problems in academic performance, relationships, and emotional well-being.  Not as simple to measure, however, is what can be lost when the smart device diverts our attention from the ordinary and extraordinary events that make up the rich fabric of a meaningful life.

It’s true that other beautiful events and occasions to reach out to others will probably come your way. But some events won’t reoccur in the same way or to the same degree. Missing so many moments of our life can impact us. Research suggests that long periods of time on social media are often followed by feelings that the time was wasted, with nothing of value having been accomplished. The intrusive tug of perceived cyber world social obligations can become another source of stress. In addition to its benefits, social media involvement has also brought the need to manage inappropriate or harassing interchanges, threats to privacy, loneliness, and the sense of being connected 24/7 without relief.

Although extremely rare, cyber-obsession has resulted in grave harm to a loved one.  A 22-year-old mom shook her infant son to death after he interrupted her game on social media. To play Pokemon Go, a young couple left their two-year-old home alone.  Having wandered out of the house, the toddler was found crying in the 96-degree Arizona heat. Relationships are shaped by patterns of behaviors and interactions as well as by pivotal moments. Over time, device distraction can make those in our lives feel that what they need or what they have to say is not valued enough to compete with the digital screen world. Lost opportunities to acknowledge the small achievements of a child or to affirm another’s self-worth can accumulate and affect the quality of a relationship or the emotional well-being of those who interact with us.  The inflated, often illusory, images on social media can lead us to view our friends and loved ones as disappointing by comparison. Parents’ cyber-bragging about their toddlers can lead a mom or dad to wonder about their own child’s abilities and developmental progress. Groomed cyber pics can make our partner seem less attractive and diminish their romantic appeal.

While those in your face-to-face life learn, change, and grow in so many ways—physically, behaviorally, intellectually, and emotionally—you might become stalled in a digital time warp.

Yes, you might be able to do without the things you miss while monitoring your virtual world, but can your loved ones?

Further reading

Batcho, K. I.  (2015).  No limits:  Relationships in Cyberspace.  Psychology Today.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/longing-nostalgia/201503/no-limits-relationships-in-cyberspace 

Byington, K. W., & Schwebel, D. C.  (2013).  Effects of mobile Internet use on college student pedestrian injury risk.  Accident Analysis and Prevention, 51, 78-83.

Cheever, N. A., Rosen, L. D., Carrier, L. M., & Chavez, A.  (2014).  Out of sight is not out of mind:  The impact of restricting wireless mobile device use on anxiety levels among low, moderate and high users.  Computers in Human Behavior, 37, 290-297.

Fox, J., & Moreland, J. J.  (2015).  The dark side of social networking sites:  An exploration of the relational and psychological stressors associated with Facebook use and affordances.  Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 168-176.

Lin, R., & Utz, S.  (2015).  The emotional responses of browsing Facebook:  Happiness, envy, and the role of tie strength.  Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 29-38.

Martinez, E.  (2010).  FarmVille playing mom admits she killed infant who interrupted Facebook game.  CBS News.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/farmville-playing-mom-admits-she-killed-infant-who-interrupted-facebook-game/

McBride, D. L.  (2015).  Distraction of clinicians by smartphones in hospitals:  A concept analysis.  Journal of Advanced Nursing, Concept Analysis, 2020-2030.

Rappaport, B., & Stelloh, T.  (2016).  Arizona couple abandons toddler to play ‘Pokemon Go’.  NBC News.  http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/arizona-couple-abandons-toddler-play-pokemon-go-n621006

Tossell, C. C., Kortum, P., Shepard, C., Rahmati, A., & Zhong, L.  (2015).  You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him learn:  Smartphone use in higher educationBritish Journal of Educational Technology, 46, 713-724.

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