Is your mobile device taking over your life
FEELINGS

Is your mobile device taking over your life?

Be honest. Is your mobile device taking over your life? Are you constantly connected to the online world? Psychology consultant Dr Nicola Davies looks at ways you can reclaim your time.

So what if you check your email first thing in the morning? How can you avoid it when your smartphone is your alarm clock? So what if you send a quick reply while gulping down your morning coffee?

Your life revolves around your phone

You need to get a jump start on the busy day ahead. So what if you sneak a peek at your inbox while driving? You know this particular red light takes forever. All of this has happened before you even get to work and start your day.

After work is no better and you find yourself unable to resist the siren call of the new mail alert pinging from your phone. Maybe it’s the answer you’ve been waiting for from the proposal you sent your boss – has your project finally been approved? Okay, so you may chide your children when they bring their phones to the table, but when yours rings, that’s different – it’s work; you can’t just ignore it.

None of this is a problem though as when you absolutely need to relax, you pull out your iPad for a couple of turns on ‘Words with Friends.’ Your opponent plays ‘candidly,’ which reminds you that you’ve been meaning to research ways to take better candid photos with your Smartphone. You tap your browser and start searching and before you know it midnight has arrived and you’re feeling wired – far too wired to sleep – even though you know you’ll be exhausted when your alarm goes off in the morning.

Anyway, why is putting down your iPhone is so important?

Why is switching off so hard?

How many times have you picked up your phone ‘just to check an email’ and found yourself on a random website an hour later? A study by Dr Antti Oulasvirta, Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany, demonstrated how ‘prompts’ within technology are making it more difficult for us to resist the call of the online world. For example, while the email alert sound prompts us to check email, according to Dr Oulasvirta, this alert can act as a ‘gateway’ to other applications, leading to other actions being taken with the device.

Based on the content that is accessed, the habit may lead to a diverse variety of ‘next actions.’ In other words, the very ease of use that’s built into Smartphones simply sucks us in and makes it convenient for us to move seamlessly from one application to the next. You may even have a regular routine that you engage in whenever you pick up your phone – check email, check Facebook, check Twitter, Google some information, and so on.

Why is switching off so important?

In spite of the lure of the world contained within your Smartphone, it’s important to keep yourself grounded within the reality of the external world. In 2008, Gary Small, the Head of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Centre, documented actual physiological changes in the brain after moderate Internet use. This led to more studies, all of which disturbingly demonstrate that while you may think you are choosing to use your Smartphone, you’re actually following a classic addiction pattern.

It is the lure of the dopamine reward (the chemical in the brain that controls pleasure) that comes from answering the call of the phone that has led Peter Whybrow of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour at UCLA to refer to the Internet as “electronic cocaine.” The risk of addiction is not your only area of concern. In addition to changes within the brain, excessive Smartphone use has also been linked to higher stress levels, physical symptoms, weight gain, and higher blood pressure. Like any addiction, Smartphone dependence can literally take over your life if you let it.

So now that you’ve read this you can put your phone down for awhile!

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Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

A
Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.