SALT LAKE CITY — For many people, your smartphones are the last thing you look at when you go to bed, and the first thing you reach for when we wake up. Studies have showed that people are becoming increasingly dependent on their electronic devices and technology.
Technology changed the way we work, the way we play, and the way we keep in touch with our families.
"I actually think it's a good way to communicate with others, and collaborate with others," said Nithin Chalapathi, a high school freshman. "There are times when it gets overwhelming, like when you have to do homework."
We love our smartphones, and our tablets for the incredible tools they are. But, as ongoing research shows, they can also detract from our lives, increase our stress levels, and get in the way of our relationships. But, does that behavior rise to the level of an addiction?
"It's been fantastic," Jim Grant said about his smartphone. "I love every minute of it."
Grant said he uses his phone every day, all day on the job, checking work licenses for the state. He likes the speed and efficiency it gives him while working. He also uses a map app to get where he's going. Grant likes being connected all of the time, and does not consider it an addiction.
"No, I love every aspect of my iPhone," he said.
A number of people at a Trax station also talked about their smartphone usage including how often they check their phone a day.
"Probably more often than I should," Alex Fisher said.
Kelly Mai told me she checks her phone every five minutes, and believes that's pretty typical in her high school peer group. According to a recent Mobile Mindset Study by Lookout, nearly 60 percent of us check our phones every hour, at least.
"Every time it buzzes, I'm checking it, if I'm not at my desk." Ryan Ostler said
He wishes he wasn't so tied to his phone, but, it's a professional necessity for him.
"It seems like that's just the way it is now," he said. "You just have to be on-call 24\7 for work."
According to the study, young people were the most plugged in: 63 percent of women and 73 percent of men ages 18 to 34 said they don't go an hour without checking their phones.
The study also showed many will break the law and rules of etiquette to stay connected. 24 percent said they check their phones while driving. 9 percent said they check their phones during religious services at a house of worship. 30 percent admit they check their phones during meals with others.
"Only if I get a notification, and I know something is going on," Ostler said about checking his phone at meals. "I'll take a quick peek, and quickly put it away afterwards."
Dr. David Strayer directs the Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Utah, conducting research to better understand how and why people can become overloaded while multi-tasking. He has become a national authority on the topic over the last 12 years.
"I have all the gadgets just like everyone else," he said. "But, there's a time and place for using them."
Many people may be too plugged in, to the detriment of our emotional health.
"In a way where we become more of a slave to technology: the phone rings, we have to answer it; if we get a text message, we need to reply."
Strayer pointed out that most people feel socially and professionally obliged to respond to text messages, emails, and alerts on social media. 75 percent of us sleep with the phone in the room, many with it right in the bed. Strayer said, many teens feel compelled to reply to a text message in the middle of the night.
Strayer said that is not healthy, especially when we prioritize our technology over human interaction, or use it as an intermediary.
"You lose that human connection, and that's a violation of the way that humans have interacted for hundreds of thousands of years," Strayer said.
He suggested that people should possibly change the way they think and behave. Strayer said most people Google more, and remember less, as well as let GPS do our navigation. All of the disruptive noise that we channel into our minds from our mobile devices can stress us out, exhaust us, and stunt our our social skills.
"Whether or not it's a formal addiction, or just overuse to the point of compulsion, we don't know," Strayer said. "In some extreme circumstances, it probably rises to the level of an addiction."
He told me that's still up for debate within the scientific definition of addiction.
Strayer suggests we completely unplug from time to time: interact with our families, get outside in nature, take a hike. He said the best way to relieve the stress is to have a "digital detox", of sorts.
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