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Op-ed

Smartphones, not so smart

One recent morning, on my way to Trader Joe’s, I stopped at the red light at Kenilworth. When the light turned green, the SUV in front of me did not move. I waited several seconds; it still did not move. Finally, I tooted my horn at the driver, apparently interrupting a smartphone conversation. And this is not the first time this has happened.

Just a few weeks ago, in Target, my friend Peggy, was literally run over by a huge man rushing through the store while talking on his smartphone — held right in front of his face as smartphone users often do. As another shopper helped Peggy to get up off the floor, the man dashed out the door, into the parking lot. Fortunately, Peggy did not break anything, but she said her neck and shoulder hurt for several days.

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Go online and google “smartphones are bad for your health” and you’ll find study after study that support this. The light from the phone hinders sleep. The device itself can harbor germs, especially if you use your phone in a restroom, a hospital or in almost any other public place. The radiation it emits reportedly can damage your heart or impair your reproductive health by reducing male sperm count. Further studies have demonstrated that constant use of smartphones can damage one’s eyesight as well as one’s hearing. Smartphones can increase stress and accident risk — just ask Peggy.

Smartphones can cause mental health problems too. According to a recent Health News article, children and teen-agers are experiencing “altered childhoods” as a result of their attachment to their phones. Obviously, many children are not getting much-needed exercise or fresh air by sitting inside their rooms with their phones.

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This phone dependence seems to just get weirder. For example, during a musical theater production, my friends’ 8-year-old son texted his dad, who was sitting two seats away from him. One of my mall-walking friends, while describing her family vacation in Ocean City, said while walking on the boardwalk, one had to constantly watch out for teen-agers and adults texting and talking and googling on their smartphones. If you didn’t stay clear of them, they would walk right into you — not much different from the Target man who walked into Peggy.

At the risk of being labeled a curmudgeon, I find the smartphone craze baffling. Why would someone drive to Ocean City, or to any resort for that matter, and spend most of his or her time practically attached to a phone? Think of all one would save on gas, food, lodging and sun lotions by using his or her smartphone at home.

In my mind, however, the biggest pitfall is the risk to communication, an irony to be sure since much of what one does on a smartphone is communicate. But in-person communication is much more important. One does not learn good manners by communicating only by phone. Nor does one learn correct grammar and usage by communicating only by e-mail or text or social media on one’s phone.

How can you have a serious in-depth discussion on a smartphone — or do you just Twitter through life like our twitler-in-chief? It’s scary to think that just about anything can be posted on the internet and unless someone is really savvy, how would the person, especially a young person, know truth from fiction?

What if smartphones were banned from all public places, including restaurants, movie houses, theaters and sports stadiums, and from all vehicles, including cars, trains and planes? Would people be able to survive? I think they would. And I think people would be a lot smarter without smartphones. But will we ever know?

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of “The Feminine Irony” and “Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing.” Her email is lynneagress@aol.com.


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