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A Smart Pandora’s Box

By Michael Castelluccio
September 1, 2019
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A modern equivalent of Pandora’s box, the iPhone 1 was released in 2007. Like its mythical counterpart, it was associated with both a great gift and various new disasters. According to Pew Research, by 2015, 72% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone, and the American Psychological Association and orthopedic practitioners were already busy cataloging new related syndromes.

 

iDISORDERS

 

We’ll check in first with the orthopedists who have been studying smartphone use. Their symptom list is easier to understand.

 

Text-neck: Your head weighs between 10 and 11 pounds. When you look down to text or browse on your phone, every additional inch inclined doubles the pressure on your spine, exerting nearly 60 pounds of force as your chin reaches your chest. Not impressed? Try this: Pick up two 5 lb. bags of sugar in one hand and try to hold them for the duration of a four- or five-minute text exchange.

 

Text-claw: This is the nonmedical descriptor for inflammation of tendons that can lead to fibrotic muscles in your hands. Texting can also exacerbate any existing carpal-tunnel problems.

 

Several other physical symptoms directly involve the senses. Earbuds buzzing at near maximum levels can trigger tinnitus and/or hearing loss, and the blue light from smartphone screens can steal sleep by inhibiting the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Additional strain on vision can result from something called Tiny FontVision Syndrome. And, of course, the ultimate physical cost is recorded in vehicular crashes caused by texting-impaired driving (DWT). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 200,000 of these collisions resulted in 3,477 lives lost in the U.S. in 2015.

 

The psychological/social-damage potential is more wide-ranging and in some ways more disturbing. A smartphone can be a distraction in the classroom, and a more serious impediment to learning is its potential to impair one’s ability to maintain concentration. Excessive time on the de-vice can become an addiction with symptoms similar to those caused by chemical addiction. Therapists also note how smartphones can disconnect us from the real world, replacing human relationships with “electrical friends.”

 

There are new odd-sounding neuroses: nomophobia (no-mobile-phone phobia) and the FOMO (fear of missing out) phenomenon. A recent U.K. study of 1,000 people found 66% fear losing or being without their phones at any given time.

 

Perhaps the most exotic of these new fears is the one called “phantom pocket vibration syndrome,” which strangely resembles phantom-limb afflictions. It’s the deceptive feeling that your phone is vibrating when it really isn’t.

 

And finally, to bring us up to date, in its draft this year of the 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the World Health Organization now lists a “gaming disorder”—as in obsessional computer ­gaming—in its index of diseases.

 

INTERVENTIONS

 

With no one seriously straining to slam shut the lid on the pandemics flowing from our smartphones, short of total abstinence, it seems the only path to regain control is moderation. But that’s a self-help book all by itself, so here’s how to cheat your way to immediate success with hardware. Consider the BoringPhone.

 

The soon-to-be-released BoringPhone is a piece of edited technology that lets you make phone calls or video calls, use maps and navigations, and even send text messages. What’s missing are emails, an internet browser, social media, or any kind of app store. And why would you give up all that connectivity? Well, because if you’re an average smartphone consumer, you’re spending two hours and 50 minutes a day, 19 hours and 50 minutes a week, or 43.5 days per year on your phone. That’s a disturbing 12% of your life each year spent away in your own remote, digitally re­drawn world (numbers from www.bankmycell.com/blog/smartphone-addiction).

 

The New Zealand team of two friends who created the BoringPhone for adults and their children simply call it “A minimalist smartphone with all the useful stuff, none of the distractions.” It’s a pathway back to the real world.

 

The phone has several useful apps already loaded. On board is the phone and a contacts list and calendar that you can sync with your Android or iOS data. The messaging app is Signal, which supports SMS protected with encryption able to share media. Maps and navigation use OpenStreetMap for navigation, even offline. There’s a camera, a podcast manager, MP3 music player, FM radio and voice re­corder, clock, calculator, notepad, and flashlight. The phone is capable of tethering to provide a mobile hotspot connection for other devices. Significantly absent is an app store—you can’t download new apps.

 

You can use the BoringPhone to detox, spend web-free weekends, or even as a permanent solution for the problems ­emanating from your digital Pandora’s box. If it’s successful, don’t be surprised if this Kickstarter project is joined by other minimalist imitators.

 

Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 24 years. His SF TECHNOTES blog is in its 21st year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.


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