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Snowflake or snowdrift?

The latest Pew Research on Teens, Social media and Technology 2018 shows that 95% of US teens have access to a smartphone and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly’. Yesterday the World Health Organisation defined a new disease - gaming disorder - with concerning rates of addiction amongst the young. The Chief Executive of the NHS last week talked of the concerning impact of social media on rates of suicide and self-harm. A friend who is a GCSEs invigilates reports serious issues of ‘separation anxiety’, with many teens apparently less stressed by the exam itself than by having to leave their phones at the door of the exam room. Our children’s reliance on screens - and particularly smart phones - is concerning.

And while the ‘snowflake’ generation may suffer most, the rest of us are not far behind. In recent research conducted by Encore Tickets, a psychologist from University College London warned of the ‘damaging’ over-reliance on screens. On a typical weekend an average Briton spends six hours looking at screens and a quarter of the population spends upwards of 10 hours a day on screens. The report found device attachment was “affecting behaviour within relationships, concentration levels and led to some people losing touch with the real world”. More snowdrift than snowflake.

More and more of us are trying to limit our ‘device’ time. Websites list hotels without wifi, busy executives build ‘off-screen time’ into their schedules and the mindfulness movement is ever-present, if you’ll excuse the pun.

But while we try hard to reduce our reliance on smartphones, some businesses are doing the opposite, driving more and more behaviour towards mobile applications.

The school, which warns us of the dangers of screen-time, post all homework online, accessed primarily via the children’s smartphones. This gives the children a cast-iron excuse to have their phones at their side, even when doing their homework. Can we really expect them to concentrate uniquely on this app, ignoring the constant stream of social media alerts from their friends?

A year or so ago, I tried to buy a smart toothbrush for my son. My own brush has a digital wall display I had found useful in prolonging brushing. However, Oral B no longer provides the hardware, instead directing users to their mobile app. My protestations that I didn’t want my pre-teen using his mobile phone at bedtime was met by a sympathetic but ‘you’re so out of touch’ look from the lady in Boots.

This weekend our music handsets became obsolete as Sonos withdrew support for their CR100 hardware - driving us towards tablets or smartphones instead. And today my husband discovered the only way to transfer £3000 online was via his bank’s app, not via their website.

We rely increasingly on our mobile phones to run our social lives, our banking, our shopping - even our heating and security systems. Whilst this is very convenient - and cost beneficial to many businesses - we cannot ignore the impact it is having on society.

I don’t have the answer. This trend from hardware to software is not likely to stop anytime soon. But for the sake of our future employees’ health, as well as their interpersonal relationships, we surely need to think twice before putting all our technology eggs in the smartphone basket.

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