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Are Smartphones Making us Dumber?

by on September 17, 2012
in Phones and Mobile, News, Cell Phones, Blog :: 9 comments

Your smartphone is indeed, very smart. In fact, at an event last week during which Motorola introduced a new lineup of Droids, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said they’re actually better than desktop PCs.

"[I]f you think about it, this is an even more powerful computer because it has a location and it's something that you carry with you all the time." he said.

There’s no doubt people carry these supercomputers with them everywhere. But is that a good thing?

Forbes featured a post this week that asked the interesting question, “Are smartphones making us dumber?”

While author Katherine Ellison quotes a neuroscientist in the story who says he’s unaware of studies that prove the affirmative, there are plenty of people writing about the subject, giving their books titles such as “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age,” and “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.”

Maybe no one has yet measured actual decline in intelligence or ability to focus due to the flashing and pinging screens we seem to constantly look at, indirect evidence suggests there’s reason to worry.

Ellison points to studies conducted at the University of California at Irvine in which a researcher found that people who work on computers switch tasks every three minutes and flit between windows to check email or surf the web 37 times an hour, on average. Another UC Irvine study done in collaboration with the U.S. Army found that after five days without email 13 office workers were found to be multi-tasking less, less stressed, and more able to focus.

Brain and behavior studies aside, smartphones are definitely a tool many people use to behave in incredibly stupid ways.

Texting while driving, walking and biking can kill people. Everyone in the developed world knows it, yet this dangerous behavior persists. If you’ve spent any time driving since the advent of the smartphone my bet is you’ve seen someone texting, emailing or otherwise tapping on their device while driving, and you’ve probably seen them swerve out of their lane while doing it.

My son’s school is only a few miles from our house but the idea of him biking there is absolutely out of the question because of the very real possibility he will be hit by a car because of all the idiots driving while messing with their phones. When I was a kid, paying attention to the road was drivers’ modus operandi.

Speaking of texting, how about people who use shorted text language like "u" for "you" in an email message or some other non-text medium. In my opinion, if you’re using a keyboard off of which words can speedily fly, there’s really no reason to shorten them. Yet acronyms such as OMG and LOL are ubiquitous and reflect the degradation of our language. Just flip through any classic book written more than 100 years ago and compare it to whatever's top on The New York Times Best Sellers list. The way we write and speak has evolved into something that's much more simple and streamlined. While some might argue that's a good thing, many readers today have a difficult time with vintage prose.

Another thing I see all the time is little children—at a playground, for example—in the presence of an adult paying little to no attention to them, instead glued to his or her phone. Every time I see this I want to inform the individual about the oft-forgotten fact that time flies; in no time the little angel will be in college. Not only that, our kids get smarter the more we talk to them. I've even seen public service announcements regarding this problem posted in the Midwestern city in which I live. It's sad that parents today need to be told to put down their devices and interact with their kids.

And where etiquette used to mean saying “please” and “thank you” or holding the door for a lady, today people need manners training regarding the myriad of aggravating ways they use their phones. Consider the clueless person talking on her phone in confined public spaces such as the table right next to yours, or holding up the line at a store because of tapping or talking on their phones, or worst (in my book)—when you’re having an in-person conversation with someone who keeps checking his or her phone.

So are our smartphones making us dumber? Even if scientists can't prove it, I say in practice there’s no question.

Discussion loading


rude cell phone users

From Ginni on September 17, 2012 :: 11:30 am

Smartphone or otherwise, I’ve worked in retail settings where the customer carried on a conversation the entire time they shopped, including checking out. Why bother thanking a customer for shopping with you when they’ve never acknowledged your presence since they came through the door?!



Dangerous Behavior

From Michelle on September 17, 2012 :: 11:39 am

The other day I saw a young person on a motorcycle not wearing a helmet checking his phone while riding.  Clearly we are not getting through to people…we know this behavior is dangerous and yet so many still engage it in.  Not only was I blown away, but also felt incredibly sad.



mind your bussins

From Tyrone Shaw on September 27, 2012 :: 1:23 pm

oh yea that was me u need 2 mind your bussines lady



Dumber, Less Focused, or More Egocentric

From Bill Kraski on September 17, 2012 :: 11:58 am

Some interesting points.  But I question that dumber is the right term.  I see several other things coming into play.

1) We probably have worse immediate recall.  But not because memory is less capable.  We’ve come to rely more on immediate lookup (Google search, etc.), so our memory gets exercised less.

2) Yes, we do multitask more.  Which can be good, as it develops our flexibility.  But it also means that any task we’re dealing with is likely to get less attention and focus.  Nothing gets our best.

3) That multitasking creates another monster.  A sense of self importance derived from the number of things we deal with, even if it’s not really a good barometer.

4) There’s also the double edged sword of ego and lack of self worth.  Ego says I’m cool, therefore I have a smartphone, the right clothes, am important enough that I have to text and drive (my input is required immediately, even if that’s not true).  And the lack of self worth says I have to have the right phone and the right clothes, and MUST reply immediately or people won’t see me as important.

The smartphone is a symptom, not a cause.  But what it shows depends on how we prioritize.

Example.  When I’m reading my Bible, writing a blog post or on a date, there may be some background music and maybe something to eat, but nothing else gets in the way.  The TV is off, my phone is off or at least ignored.  I’ve seen guys out on dinner dates who can’t stay focused enough to ignore their phone.  He may think it shows how important he is, but she has to be thinking he doesn’t consider her important enough to leave the phone alone.



Driving While Distracted (DWD) is

From Gary on September 17, 2012 :: 3:05 pm

Driving While Distracted (DWD) is nearly the same as DWI.

Anyone doing it shows a complete disregard of the safety of others.

DWD is grossly irresponsible and immature.

All ‘hands-on’ cell phone drivers should be fined a minimum of $500 and attend a mandatory driving safety course.

The world could use a few less stupid people but those idiot cell-phone-drivers always kill other folks instead of themselves.



It's more than Intelligence that is erroding

From Cassie Wilkerson on September 17, 2012 :: 5:26 pm

I will be honest there are comments like I hate my boss for busting on me using facebook at work. In actual more smartphone users are well getting more ignorant than intelligence but also self-absorbed, selfish and callus. more often used to snap voyeur pics on the web, ignore paid jobs playing games (lie texting office), waste time and use disregarding human safety driving & etc. Most annoying try dating or talking to someone when all you see all the time head down, smartphone & finger flying….most annoying men using them to surf for porn at work/date and second is 24/7 sports nuts! I work these guys play and get paid what the hell ask me what say to the boss I say sorry we aren’t text buddies!-lol


Secondary Brain

From Sasha Rambles on September 18, 2012 :: 12:12 pm

I acquired my “secondary brain” around the same time as mommy-brain was kicking in, so it’s hard to separate the two, but I can tell you I FEEL dumber!!! Why trust your memory, for example, when you can just fire the thought/reminder/grocery item into your phone?

I did see an app recently to help you remember things, by “reminding” you several times over a period of days.

Yes, I have forgotten what the app was called.

No, the irony is not lost on me. I still retain that bit of my brain smile



Human Nature

From Eric DeSilva on June 11, 2013 :: 12:02 pm

I’ve seen the stats, I’ve followed the news stories. Humans are stupid when it comes to driving and distractions. People don’t really have smarts when it comes to using a mobile phone when behind the wheel. It’s going to get worse. If you haven’t noticed, more and more people are heads down looking at their phone. We are becoming robots people! Unfortunately it’s going to take some serious accidents and issues before we decide to use better judgement. Humans have proven judgement isn’t our strong suit. Afterall, we don’t want to miss the latest Tweet or Facebook post…



Thanks for the heads-up!

From Durablebrad on July 07, 2016 :: 12:11 am

As the computing power, memory capacity, and convenience of portable communication devices continue to mesmerize the undereducated and lazy citizens of those “advanced” civilizations on this planet (most responsible for organized governmental violence and unending environmental genocide), it becomes inevitable that advanced minds MUST acknowledge these devices are merely a convenient substitution for the human ego… in a world where the underclass has as much chance of survival as any other endangered species. SPLAT!


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