Let’s play a game: The next time you’re sitting among a group of friends or out on a date, measure how much time passes before someone grabs their phone to look at it.
How long can you last?
“If that happens, that’s when dinner ends,” said Judith Martin, the Washington Post writer whose Miss Manners column is syndicated to 200 newspapers a week.
“I don’t think anyone would dare do that to me,” she said.
Most of us don’t have the authority that comes with 40 years of being Miss Manners, but no matter who you are it can be near impossible to pry anyone away from their mobile playthings. (Harder still: Are your friends or partner more into their smartphone than they are into you?)
The problem of looking at our devices nonstop is both social and physiological.
The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, and when we bend our neck to text or check Facebook, the gravitational pull on our head and the stress on our neck increases to as much as 60 pounds of pressure. That common position, pervasive among everyone from paupers to presidents, leads to incremental loss of the curve of the cervical spine. “Text neck” is becoming a medical issue that countless people suffer from, and the way we hang our heads has other health risks, too, according to a report published last year in The Spine Journal.
Posture has been proven to affect mood, behavior and memory, and frequent slouching can make us depressed, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The way we stand affects everything from the amount of energy we have to bone and muscle development, and even the amount of oxygen our lungs can take in. Body language, perceptions of weakness versus power — it’s all real.
And the remedy can be ridiculously simple: Just sit up.
Social psychologists like Amy Cuddy claim even standing in a confident posture, with your head up and shoulders back, can heighten testosterone and cortisol flow in the brain, preventing much of the above. So, why aren’t we heeding these signs? It might be simple denial.
Inattentional blindness is a problem
Some 75 percent of Americans believe their smartphone usage doesn’t impact their ability to pay attention in a group setting, according to the Pew Research Center, and about a third of Americans believe that using phones in social settings actually contributes to the conversation.
But does it?
Etiquette experts and social scientists are adamantly united: Nope.
That “always-on” behavior that smartphones contribute to causes us to remove ourselves from our reality, experts said. And aside from the health consequences, if we’re head down, our communication skills and manners are slumped, too. But, ironically, that might not be how most of us see themselves.
“We think somehow that this antisocial behavior is not going to affect me,” said Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at New York University.
Ms. Way studies technology’s role in shaping adolescent development. These head-down interactions take us away from the present, no matter what group we’re in, she said. And it’s not just a youth problem. It’s ingrained, learned, copied and repeated, much of it from mimicking adults. When kids see their parents head down, they emulate that action. The result is a loss of nonverbal cues, which can stunt development.
“What’s happening more and more is we’re not talking to our children,” Ms. Way said. “We put them in front of the tech when they’re young, and when we’re older, we’re absorbed in our own tech.”
You’ve seen it: Think of how some parents deal with screaming toddlers. “Here kid, take this iPhone and go to town,” according to Ms. Way — not, “Let’s talk this out, what seems to be the problem, son?’”
She added: “We think, ‘Somehow my kids will know what’s a good and bad interaction, they’ll have empathy.’ But when I go upstairs into my son’s room and seven teens are all looking at their phones, none of them saying a word, there’s all sorts of disengagement happening. It’s not Facebook that’s the problem, it’s how we’re using Facebook.”