Smart phone warning labels can’t shut down plugged-in society

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(Michelle Krichevskaya / The DePaulia)

Not too long ago, the average American accessed the Internet solely through a laptop or desktop computer. The Millennial generation witnessed a rapid change in technology, most notably the rise of cell phones. According to global information company Nielsen, 85 percent of 18- to 24-year olds own a smart phone.

But as smart phone ownership continues to increase, so does dependency on it — especially among younger users. We check our phones when we wake up in the morning. We scroll through Twitter as we walk down the street. We sneak in texts even when professors have a no-cell phone policy. Some experts have even acknowledged smart phones as being potentially addictive.

Researchers at Bournemouth University in England have proposed a possible solution to excessive cell phone use: disclaimers on phones that remind the owner how often they use their device and inform people about potential addiction.

Dr. Raian Ali heads the research, computing and informatics department at Bournemouth. He warns that the overwhelming use of smart phones can lead to “reduced creativity, depression and disconnection from reality.” The researchers’ study also showed that 80 percent of adult technology users were receptive to the idea of warning labels on digital devices.

The warning labels being proposed would be interactive. Along with a tangible label, there would be frequent warnings in the form of Facebook alerts, SMS or pop-ups.

College students report some of the highest cell phone usage, spending between eight and 10 hours on them per day, according to a study by Baylor University in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

(Michelle Krichevskaya / The DePaulia)

This means that college students are spending one-third of their day staring at a screen. With such a strong dependency on our digital devices, it seems as though it may be too late to do anything about it. So much of what is required of us on a daily basis requires us to be plugged in to our devices. And mobile devices aren’t solely used for social media or entertainment purposes.

The Pew Research Center reports that 68 percent of people use smartphones to keep up with breaking news events and 56 percent use them for community engagement. Millennials use FaceTime to keep contact with long distance friends and relatives. It’s not even necessary to look beyond our own backyard. The Chicago Transit Authority uses its app to keep the city informed on train wait times, routes and delays on a daily basis. Oh, and good luck finding a career that does not require using a computer or digital device.

But a change in smart phone use is necessary. Excessive smart phone usage can adversely affect your mood and increase your risk of illness and stress, according to Medical Daily. It can lead to a weakened immune system, chronic pain syndrome and vision problems. A University of Birmingham study has even suggested excessive use can even lead to memory loss

It is entirely possible more interactive disclaimers such as pop-ups, emails and text alerts may begin to decrease cell phone usage.

For example, since medical studies revealed smoking cigarettes proposes significant and deadly health risks, the U.S. has seen a steady decline in smokers. According to Gallup’s Annual Consumption Habits survey, 43 percent of people smoked during the 1940s, compared to the 2000s when only 24 percent of people reported smoking.

The difference here is you cannot simply cut down on digital device usage without dedicating less time to an aspect of your life — be that entertainment, social interaction, news or even your job. Do we spend too much time on our smartphones? Yes. However, we are living in a digital society that requires individuals to remain plugged in the majority of the time in order to excel.

It is important for developers of these labels to inform how often smart phone owners are using their phones, but they must also ensure these labels to not make using the device a hassle.

“The development of intelligent software able to understand users and personalize the (warning) labels so that they fit their context, preference and values to ensure their effectiveness are all challenges we have to address,” Ali said.

Smart phone warning labels may not successfully prevent users from swiping through Tinder for hours, but a friendly reminder of how long they have been looking at a screen just might be enough motivation to put their smart phone down — even if only temporarily.