Vaping devices have recently been front and center in the news due to reports of severe illness and lung damage. Although these cigarette alternatives have been around for some time, the reports of the health risks have only recently surfaced. It makes sense that there has been a gap between the use of vaping devices and a connection to health problems. Both damage and evidence accumulate over time.
As a casual observer, I’m beginning to have similar concerns about our use of smartphones. Is this a habit that is eventually going to catch up with us and result in physical, mental health, and social issues? Some of the dangers of cell phone use have been obvious and immediate — texting and driving, cyberbullying, sex trafficking, etc. We have seen hints of other issues, but the jury is still out on the long-term impact of the effect of social comparison on self-esteem, the stress of constantly being “connected,” and the potential risks of staring at a small screen for multiple hours every day.
However, my biggest concern is related to how smartphones influence our ability to communicate with empathy and civility. When I worked as a stock broker at Charles Schwab, I was convinced people would say anything on the telephone, but their words pale in comparison to what they are willing to Tweet. Unfortunately, we need look no further than our own political leaders to see evidence of the erosion of civility in online communication.
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I’ll be the first to admit I am incredibly tempted by the iPhone 11 and I am actually writing this blog post on my smartphone. Smartphones have many benefits and they can be used (along with social media) to do a lot of good. But like vaping devices, it’s possible we haven’t been on our phones long enough to experience the accumalation of damage and evidence.
I’m not making a literal comparison between smartphone use and vaping, but I won’t be surprised if in five, ten, or fifteen years we are looking back and wishing we wouldn’t have spent so much time on our phones.