Are Smartphones Hurting our Health and Happiness?

An investigation into whether our phones are causing us more harm than good


Meleena Richardson

Angie Munoz, primary education sophomore, uses her phone during leisure time at University Grounds Coffee Shop. Photo by Meleena Richardson.

Meleena Richardson, Staff Reporter

Angie Munoz, a primary education sophomore at IU Southeast, begins her phone ritual from the moment her eyes open in the morning until they close at night.

“Checking my phone is literally the first thing I do in the morning,” Munoz said. “Sometimes I even fall asleep on my phone watching Netflix.”

On average, five hours a day is spent glaring at a phone screen according to a research article by Plos One. With individuals becoming increasingly dependent on their smartphone devices, the usage could be taking more of a toll on health than originally thought.

The average American uses their smartphone roughly twice as much as they think they do, insinuating that this has become habitual behavior. With prolonged use on these devices, the question arises as to what it is doing to our health and happiness.

Dr. Sridhar Ramachandran, associate professor and coordinator of informatics at IU Southeast, has over 20 years of experience in both teaching and conducting research on informatics. Some of this research includes the physical and mental impact technology has on our health.

“Smartphone addiction is now an accepted and acknowledged compulsive condition known to cause trauma and high level anxiety,” Ramachandran said.“That leads to lowering one’s productivity while simultaneously impacting the emotional health of the person.”

Ramachandran further explains that with prolonged usage, this condition can inhibit the user’s emotional ability to focus on one topic and cause more permanent damage by affecting the subconscious layer of human behavior.

Ramachandran also explains some of the diseases frequent smartphone use can cause, such as “lifestyle diseases”, which include digital eye strain syndrome, texting thumb/finger syndrome, and posture related issues such as “text neck” as some of the most common smartphone related health issues.

Over Exposure

Smartphones are often praised for their high definition displays and bright LED screens, but the light that is emitted from phone screens can actually cause damage to our bodies in a multitude of ways.

According to Devin Snelling, a mobile expert at Best Buy, “The harsh blue light that is emitted will stimulate your eyes and brain causing you to have trouble sleeping.”

However, with the release of modern phones, big companies have tried to fix this issue by incorporating more eye-friendly displays.

“Many new high-end phones will have resolutions far beyond what the human eye can see,” Snelling said. “This allows less strain during long periods of exposure.”

Snelling also mentions companies have incorporated a new yellow light display mode for use in the dark, known as “Night Shift” on iPhones. This is to help users sleep more comfortably at night and put less strain on the eyes.

Social Distractions

Munoz estimates that she spends well over six hours a day on her phone and checks it about 25 times an hour when both in class and when not using it at home.

Ramachandran has noticed the same obsessive behavior in his classes.

“I have personally seen people obsessively check and refresh their smartphone even when there is no likelihood of seeing new and interesting information that frequently,” Ramachandran said. “The anxiety and stress over missing out on a text or a social media update is taking a toll on people’s’ attention and focus.”

Munoz explains how she was an avid reader in middle and high school, but due to constant phone and social media usage, she feels she has lost touch with her ability to focus.

“I used to read a lot but I haven’t as much, and now I find it hard to because I feel like I’ve lost that concentration.”

Munoz further explains that when she does try to read, her phone becomes a distraction. When watching T.V., Munoz has to be on her phone at the same time as well.

While smartphones could be diminishing our focus, they also may put a strain on relationships.

“I’ve found myself on multiple occasions where I’m out with friends or family eating and we’re all on our phones,” Munoz said. “We have to tell eachother to put them down so we can actually spend time together.”

This is a phenomenon called “phubbing” according to Ramachandran. Phubbing describes the act of snubbing a person in a social setting by intentionally favoring your smartphone over interacting with the person.

Emotional Impact

Research from undergraduate associates and Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci at the IU Southeast Shyness Research Institute indicate that the most common usage of cell phone use seem to be social in nature.  

However, the study also indicates the inability to control cravings for cell phone usage links to addiction-like dependency symptoms such as loss of productivity, feeling anxious and lost, and withdrawal/escape. These are similar symptoms noticed in more severe sources of addiction such as drugs and alcohol.

In addition to the previous study, Carducci and Rebecca Moody conducted a different study about what college students do to seek happiness. Among the categories of self-seeking happiness was the “passive leisure” category which included “surfing the net”.

The study concluded that when it comes to passive leisure to seek happiness, although it does provide some sense of relaxation and immediate pleasure, it is not an efficient strategy in enhancing sustained happiness.

Munoz hopes to try and limit the time she spends on her phone in the future

“I really want to spend less time on my phone and focus on what’s going on around me,” Munoz said.