More than 170 million Americans own smartphones, making the devices this generation's absolute must-have. As with previous technological changes, though, smartphone holdouts, advocates of natural living, concerned physicians, and sundry other figures have expressed doubts about the safety of being hooked up to a tiny screen all day. These concerns aren't just the cries of Luddites unwilling to embrace new technology. They're based on real science, and evidence is mounting that smartphones might be good for your job, but they're not necessarily good for your body or mind.
The Cell Phone-Cancer Connection
People have been sounding alarms about brain cancer and cell phones since the nineties. Smartphones, which encourage much more phone time than cell phones ever did, have upped the ante on cancer concerns. Evidence is mounting that these devices could increase your risk of brain cancer, especially if you use them for extended periods of time or sleep next to them. One recent study, for example, found that using a smartphone for more than 15 hours a month could triple your risk of cancer.
Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a form of radiation that can be absorbed by the body's tissues, especially at the point of entry. This might help explain why smartphones are far more likely to cause brain cancer than, say, pancreatic cancer.
Are Smartphones Changing Our Brains?
Even if you take steps to minimize your cancer risk, you can't escape other brain changes if you use a smartphone. A virtual avalanche of research points to a number of ways smartphones are changing our brains. Smartphones offer near-constant entertainment. This might seem like a great thing, but boredom can actually empower creativity. Without it, your ability to generate novel solutions to old problems can take a nosedive.
Likewise, smartphones may also be destroying our attention spans. From interfering with relationships to inhibiting students' ability to pay attention in class, the instant gratification of the screen can be too much to resist. Over time, this may change the way we learn, and even make in-person relationships seem less rewarding than those that occur online.
Safe Smartphone Use
In a world where instant email responses can make a huge difference in your career and ignoring your spouse's texts may lead to a nasty fight, giving up your smartphone might not be realistic. You can, though, take steps to minimize your risk. Those include:
- Limiting your phone time, and talking on your home phone as much as possible instead.
- Using your smartphone only for specific tasks, not as a source of entertainment or instant gratification
- Avoiding sleeping next to your smartphone
- Scheduling smartphone-free time during which you don't check, look at, or touch your phone
- Limiting the time you spend playing games and completing meaningless tasks on your phone