Feeling less excluded and more secure: the good side of always having your cell phone with you | Technology

Less ability to concentrate and pay attention. Fewer memories. Isolation. Sleep problems. Anxiety. Addiction. The list of everything bad about cell phones is long and well known, but despite this, we all start with one smartphone There must be something more in the bag, pocket, or hand that explains our behavior than simple addiction. The list of advantages is also obvious: smart phones They allow us to communicate, access information, pay in establishments, take photos, find our way and much more. But how far does good extend? Is this enough to compensate for all the negative?

Fewer studies examine the positive side of being glued to a mobile device than those that examine the devastation this addiction can wreak, which Frank Schneider, professor at the University of Amsterdam and one of the authors of one of these studies on goodness, attributes, among other things, to the negativity bias of human beings. Just as bad news tends to carry more weight in journalism, “the same thing happens in the scientific journal market,” he explains.

In your studypublished in April 2023 in the magazine Computers in human behaviorthe function of smart phones as comfort objects, similar to the blankets or stuffed animals that some children have. To do this, they focused on the perception of social threat and ostracism and whether this could be reduced solely by having a cell phone within reach. “The main results were that smartphone acted as a physical shock absorber and that people with the smartphone in the pocket felt less excluded than those who did not have it,” summarizes Schneider. Furthermore, they also concluded that thinking about the social functions of smartphone (social applications) “reduces the feeling of ostracism better than when the smartphone he only has apps of information,” although he concedes that further research is needed.

Should we conclude that the fact that cell phones can make us feel less is a positive thing? For Arturo Montejo, researcher at the University of Jaén, it is not so clear. “Even though it is undeniable that this omnipresent connection allows us to feel accompanied and that this feeling of security is real, I wonder if what we are really identifying is that we have generated a problem, a helplessness. We are so used to the phone that we have not been able to develop the confidence or strength to deal with certain situations independently,” he reflects.

For Schneider, this type of criticism is understandable and he compares the situation to wearing glasses. “I feel safer when I wear them and I’m afraid to cycle without them,” he illustrates. According to him, taking into account all the functions of the smart phones and their usefulness – and without denying their risks – the important thing is “to learn how to use them well”.

changes in the brain

With some frequency, images go viral of an event in which those present took the lead. smartphone and they are dedicated to recording everything that happens. “The use of mobile devices has changed the way we interact with the environment, especially with regard to information and contact with others,” explains Diego Redolar, professor at the UOC and expert in neuroscience. The main criticism made of this omnipresence of smartphone in our lives, he adds, is that “we see reality through the mobile phone and that is detrimental, from a neural point of view, to the way we process information.” This mainly means that “we are not consolidating information in the most correct way.” Redolar also mentions the fact that we are addicted because the apps are designed in a way that “activates a part of our brain called the reinforcing neural substrate, which makes it very difficult for us to stop using them.”

However, the effects of constant cell phone use on the brain also have a positive side. Having so much access to so much information at all times requires better filtering, knowing what is important and what is not. “The prefrontal cortex helps us with this, and with the use of cell phones, this ability seems to be enhanced,” says Redolar.

The other aspect in which smart phones that have revolutionized our lives is contact with others. In this case, we often criticize situations in which several people are together and, instead of talking, each is on the phone. Maybe they do scroll infinity in X, but it is also possible that they are having a conversation with someone who is not present.

“In our brain, there are structures that are very important for what we call in neuroscience social cognition, this ability that we have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to communicate with others.” The use of the cell phone, explains the expert, by allowing us to be in contact with other people with whom we would not otherwise be in contact, can strengthen this social cognition. “Especially also from an emotional point of view, among people who suffer from social isolation or who are in a vulnerable situation because they do not have a support network, the cell phone just by having it generates a perception of security and this reduces fear.” In this sense, Redolar indicates that, for example, it has been found that having a cell phone on you “can reduce the activation of the amygdala, whose activation can induce anxiety”. Ultimately, it’s about knowing that “if I get lost in the woods and need to be rescued, I have that option, or that if I am sad, I can call a friend,” he said.

Is it nomophobia?

A large part of our daily routine is installed in the smartphone Turning around if we realize we forgot it at home doesn’t have to be worrying. If it has already replaced our wallet and we still use it to pay or even just to access services in which two-step authentication is enabled, spending a day without our cell phone unexpectedly can really be a issue. In other words, feeling a little more nervous about a day without a phone within reach doesn’t necessarily have to be a sign of something deeper.

“Nomophobia (from English, phobia of not having a cell phone) or the problematic use of social networks are problems that exist, but to occur they involve a dysfunctional and inappropriate use of technology”, Joaquín González-Cabrera, researcher at the International University. from La Rioja. That is, it is a situational and social phobia that causes “people to feel a deep, irrational and disproportionate fear of not being able to use their cell phone or of being without coverage and/or or battery (let’s not talk about cell phone addiction or addiction). “. Carrying our cell phone everywhere with us does not necessarily make us nomophobic, just as having social networks is not synonymous with being addicted to them. However, it is not a question of minimizing the risks either. According to a recent study in which González-Cabrera himself participated and in which the problematic use of social networks among Spanish and Mexican adolescents aged 15 to 17 was investigated, 16% were already in the dangerous part of the spectrum (2.3% with clearly problematic use and 13.2% at risk).

“He smartphone It is a tool that allows us to conjugate many verbs, including feeling connected with our loved ones, our friends, etc. and have the feeling of being part of a social fabric. It’s about using it to add or multiply (and not to subtract or divide),” says the researcher. Risks arise from improper use. “These usually appear when used compulsively, the online context is always preferred to the offline context, we think about it constantly and, above all, we start to feel negative consequences in our lives”, lists- he.

All the experts consulted insist on the need to find this balance: enjoy all the advantages without falling into dependence and problematic uses. “Used properly, the mobile phone allows people to connect their online reality with their offline reality. Both sides shape and construct people’s reality, especially in current adolescence and emerging adulthood. For many boys and girls, a message of support on WhatsApp, Telegram or similar is as important as a pat on the back or a look of support,” summarizes García-Montejo. “Problems must be prevented, but the uses of technology are very varied and many are positive,” he concludes.

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