Speak Eagle

How Our Smartphones Make us Dumb- and Dumber

(Listen to the audio recording of this post by clicking on the bar above)

dumb and dumber

Even if you didn’t see the opening scene to Dumb and Dumber 2, I think we can all agree that pretending you’re insane for 20 years is just plain…dumb. But then, it’s supposed to be.

smartphone public domain
Our smartphones, on the other hand, are supposed to help us be smart, right?  It’s a device created to help us work smarter- to multi-task and simul-task.  We can check the forecast, “attend” a meeting, send a smiley, and look up the history of plumbing all at the same time.

But what if there was evidence that our smart phones were actually making us more…dumb?

I’m not talking about using our phones, I’m just talking about the presence of the phone itself.  On our desk at work, on the table next to our plate at dinner, in our hand when we’re having a conversation with a friend.

A few weeks ago, CNN posted an article (here) by business expert, Ron Friedman.  He synthesized the results of 3 different research studies.  The conclusions are quite disturbing.


phone on deskIn the first study (here), published recently in Social Psychology, researchers found that participants with their phones in sight performed 20% worse on a cognitive test than participants with no phone in sight.  That means, people who kept their smartphone out tested…dumber.  And for those who put their phones away, they were able to better access their cognitive skills and tested…smarter.

The truth is, with a phone in sight, our attention is divided.  We’re expecting a text message, wondering if any new emails have come in, and hoping someone else liked the picture we posted of our kid on Facebook.  And with our attention divided, we simply can’t harness our cognitive potential.

The second study (here), conducted by the University of Essex, paired people phones at restaurant
up and directed them to have a conversation about a personal event.  For those with a cell phone in sight, they judged the other person as less understanding, less trustworthy, and had they less hope for a friendship with that person in the future, compared to those conversations which occured without a phone in sight.

So, what happens to our relationships with family members and friends when we try to have a conversation with a phone in our hand?  We seriously diminish the quality of our relationships, and their perception of our character.

How could our relationships be improved if we put the phone in our pocket or purse?

For one, we would have more eye contact.  In the third study (here), a follow-up conducted by Virginia Tech, scientists concluded that when a phone is present during a conversation between two people, there is less eye contact.

Interestingly, investigators are taught the importance of eye contact, their own and their observation of the eye contact of the person they’re investigating.  Trainer John E. Reid advises (here), “To instill confidence and credibility, it is important that a speaker maintain eye contact when addressing the other person…Similarly, during an interrogation, the suspect whose eyes drop downward often means that the suspect is experiencing remorse and guilt.”

If we break our eye contact to check our phone during a conversation, it’s no wonder, then, that this shift could influence the other person to see us as less trustworthy and to have less hope for a close relationship.

colored pencil typoSo, as often as we can, let’s put our phones away when we’re having conversations and when we’re trying to work.  If we don’t, we might find ourselves committing this unforgivable crime I discovered recently, made by a colored pencil manufacturer.  Not as bad as pretending you’re insane for 20 years, but definitely in the same category as the movie title.

2 thoughts on “How Our Smartphones Make us Dumb- and Dumber”

  1. Hi Heidi,

    I’m a friend of your mom and dad-in-law. They used to live across the street from us. We just had a really nice time with them at the Fox & Hounds for dinner. My husband, Jim, lived on the same block as Sonny and Nancy when he was growing-up. Jim’s sister babysat their children, maybe Brian? (The twins for sure.) We went to Calvary Memorial Church with them and Brian and twins. I liked your blog post today. Since I am 56 years old, I can look back and see the difference in the personal relationships of people today. I see more isolation from each other than ever before. Our kids are growing up not knowing how to have meaningful relationships with their peers. A group of girls were having a slumber party, and the mom thought it sounded quiet in the room where the girls were. She went to check, and they were all on their phones and not even talking to one another. That is sad. Also, young parents are seen at restaurants busy with their phones while their little ones just sit there. How sad is that, and what are we teaching are babies. I just recently read an article about the younger people in the work place. The older bosses and CEOs tried to communicate with their employees regarding business for the company, and the younger employees would not call back their employers, or answer other forms of communication. Their answer to the problem was to teach the bosses and CEOs how to communicate with the younger generation. I don’t get that thinking. My daughter and her friends are in their late 20’s, and they don’t answer their friends or parent’s communications also. Other mothers my age have expressed the same phenomenon. Maybe you have some thoughts on these trends today? Thanks for are post, Heidi

    1. Thanks for writing, Kim! Yes, I think with all of the distractions of technology today it takes great intentionality to be a good communicator. But I think it isn’t enough to just educate people about this. It really takes a heart change, the desire from the heart to truly connect on a deep level with other people. Perhaps it helps to experience the effects of a lack of connection which would inspire someone to want to put their phone down. Surely, nagging someone about it won’t help! Expressing the longing for a connection with that person might. But I believe a change in behavior has to start with a change of heart. And heart change is really a work of God.

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