The Great Distraction: Our Phones

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A few months ago, I wrote about getting a smartphone for the first time and the benefits that come with innovative tech. It’s a great device, and having what essentially is a pocket computer is a fantastic boon. However, as with most things, smartphones have pros and cons. I want to discuss the drawbacks of smartphones this month because I’ve witnessed certain behaviors that I’ve found concerning long before I upgraded my phone.

I live in the city- a big sprawling metropolis with a ton of activity. It’s also home to a plethora of universities and businesses. My city isn’t a place where you can zone out and not pay attention to your surroundings. On most days that I’m out and about, I see people crossing busy intersections looking down at their phone and not at the traffic. Or I even see drivers checking their phones at red lights and only pay attention when the person behind them honks their horn at them. My parents always taught me to look both ways, look again, and make sure other cars have come to complete stop before crossing at an intersection. When I see people glance at the walk/don’t walk signs and meander across the road glued to their phone, I’m afraid for their safety. I’ve personally seen people almost get hit by a car or have to run to make it across as a car comes barreling forward!

What is causing this distraction? Why are individuals compelled to prioritize looking at their phones when they should be paying attention to other things? It’s the science of marketing that can explain why phones can be irresistible. Most applications you can download to your phone have something called “push notifications.” These notifications let you know if anything new is occurring on certain apps. The catch is: social media apps only give you small tidbits of information so that it can compel a user to check that application several times a day. They are intentionally designed that way because social media apps want you to keep coming back. While research on the subject matter of smartphone applications is new territory, some studies showcase an addictive quality to apps. Several states have started to look at this phenomenon and even have floated the idea of attention laws for people just crossing the street. That’s because they’re glued to their phones.

How does an over-focus on our phones get addressed though? I think we deal with it by asking those using smartphones to be more mindful of every time they pick up the phone. Does
checking a popular social media platform make you happy or anxious? Are you gaining anything from this interaction? Do constant app notifications create a barrier with interpersonal

An easy solution is built right into our phones. You can turn off push notifications and that way you won’t be drawn to your phone with the constant alerts. Setting your phone in a place where you have to get up to use it makes it less appealing to grab your phone. There are even free applications that let you curate the length of time you can use apps so you can monitor how long you spend time on them. Deleting them is an option as well. I don’t have social media apps on my phone, but I do check them on my PC at home.

I think smartphones are great, I have one myself, and I use it daily for research and entertainment. With that said, I do see cons to such a great innovation. Using the phone in moderation is vital. People could be present enough not to use their phone while crossing the street, and that would make me not fear for their safety.

What do you think about smartphones? Do you think the pros outweigh the cons? What would you like to change about smartphone usage behavior if you could?


Ziggy is a Certified Peer Specialist in PA and currently resides in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Let’s Act committee, a group of peers devoted to raising awareness about mental health care. In his downtime, he enjoys reading novels and watching nature documentaries.

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