Why is there so much panic and tension in our world today? There are probably lots of explanations, but Michael Brendan Dougherty puts his finger on our smartphones. He acknowledges that the pandemic and the lockdowns have contributed to the unease we feel. He also concedes that the polarization of our politics is also having a significant impact.
But he goes on to explain that the smartphone is a “novel substance in our environment.” He believes it is “inducing people to a kind of low-level panic and paranoia, especially in conjunction with social media.”
Much of the impact, he believes, is physiological. For example, a smartphone uses a small, backlit screen that emits blue light. There is quite a bit of research that documents the effect of blue light on circadian rhythms that are an important part of our sleep. Blue light apparently suppresses the secretion of the hormone melatonin.
Another physiological factor is the posture many have while holding a cell phone. People spend time with their shoulders falling forward, hunched over with a sunken chest, and head tilted downward. This apparently dramatically increases the release of stress hormones.
He also provides some documentation on brain activity. For example, online gamers shows gray-matter atrophy in the motor areas of the brain. This can have an negative impact on impulse control, planning, and organization.
Add to all of this to the reality that social media can leave typical users nervous, frazzled, and overstimulated. The physiological factors coupled with the electronic stimulation may explain so much of the tension we feel in our society today.
I think it time for us to consider a digital fast. Turn off the phones. Log out of social media.