By M.K. Styllinski
“Social media spark a revelation that we, the people, have a voice, and through the democratization of content and ideas we can once again unite around common passions, inspire movements, and ignite change.”
― Brian Solis,
“Ignorance meets egoism, meets bad taste meets mob rule.”
— Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur
The above quotations from writers Brian Solis and Andrew Keen are equally valid. Social media has already offered enormous benefits to connect, share and liberate humanity. It has revolutionised business as a marketing tool and allowed us an instantaneous global reach. Yet, technology – as everything else – always presents a choice between a Jekyll or Hyde application. Which perception and allotted values gain dominance will logically characterise how it develops. The internet and social media is still very much driven by the same pathology of Mr. Hyde that has been bludgeoning ordinary humanity into submission since the rise of the oil industry to the emergence of big data as the new oil. Consequently, Hyde is subsuming Jekyll at a faster rate with its moral character disappearing fast.
Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple surpass the national GDP of many countries and have more overt and covert control over our lives than the State – if indeed there is much difference. Monopolisation is too weak a word to describe how these companies seek to dominate our lives through the kind of advertising, marketing and data capitalisation that is literally predicting our every move. We are becoming the new algorithms in a vast simulation of global consumption and predictive analysis. This is inseparable from the National Security State and its SMART surveillance infrastructure. The new frontiers of social media are redefining communication fully enmeshed in the propaganda of eco-SMART cities of the future and the visions of the technocrats.
The 1960’s saw a genuine revolutionary spirit of inquiry and an expansion of awareness which was comprehensively hijacked by the Establishment. Now, we have the same commercialisation, consolidation, centralisation and control (the 4C’s) appearing in the 2000’s to divert and re-direct the enormous creativity present in humanity in partnership with this technology. To do so, the Establishment and its agencies must ensure that generations of young adults are suitably disconnected from perennial values and re-connected – even addicted – to technology as an end in itself; to be made to believe that their lives and their eco-SMART future is inevitable. Social media and its communication and consumer platforms are part of this agenda, about which most of us are wholly unaware.
“But I couldn’t do without my smart phone…”
And that’s how it works. Tweak society just enough so that such tools become indispensable because infrastructure, economics and commerce is built around it. Once again, technology is not the problem, it is those with the money and mindset that determine its trajectory. The reasons why must be understood in order to have the choice to resist such impositions. Our freedom of mind depends on it.
Before we get into the murky world that is Facebook, this somewhat lengthy post will start with the new human appendage granting entry into social media – and just about everything else – the smart phone.
Turn that f****ing phone off!
It took me an age to actually purchase a mobile phone. It also took me a while to explore the internet to any great degree, only formally signing on in 2000. Perhaps I’m just a natural Luddite resistant to such change. But when I did finally decide to go for a wander in cyberspace almost 20 years ago, it was a revelation in so many ways; so much information that could be transformed into knowledge; such a huge opportunity to engage with the world and share, share share. This was when free speech was real and unfettered and it was breath-taking, even in those early days. Yet, I also recall thinking how long would it be before the internet went the way of television, to become misused and irrevocably corrupted. My friends would tell me not to be such a stick-in-the-mud (or words to that effect) and to embrace the coming revolution.
Well, my stick is still firmly in the mud and never more so when confronted with my true bête noir: the smart phone.
It will be no surprise to those who read the Technocracy series that I have no love for technology in the hands of technocrats, most of whom are pursuing their talents at a juncture of history that thrives on keeping the creativity of good intentions separate from the Big Picture view. The latter would incorporate the awareness of the consequences that follow from a bio-reductionism that limits any concept of ethics and values from the market. Accordingly, my disquiet comes from this market-led glee that means i-phones and androids and any other smart device are in effect, mandatory.
These devices have simultaneously transformed us into glassy-eyed, slack-jawed zombies sucking up any old tripe for a cheap hit while allowing our day job to have permanent access to our feverish brains. As a result, the phone is seldom off, which means our minds remain switched on and stimulated until we close our bleary eyes at night. But we know the smart phone glow will be next to our nostrils when we awake the next morning reminding us of the promise of a that dopamine “ping!” before coffee and toast.
Our phones dutifully gobble up time as we wait in queues, travel to work, sit in a park and just about any other period of the day that we might be alone with our thoughts. Now, every nook and cranny of our minds are filled to the brim with the sounds, vibrations and the incessant vacuous shite that is social media. Disconnecting from this seductive little machine that blippety-blips for your attention every minute is almost impossible for most of us. Unless of course, you take a hammer to it, something my friend did recently which gave him so much pleasure it was enough to sustain his loss for two weeks until he was obliged to buy another. We’ve really opened a Pandora’s Box with this one and there’s no going back. At least, not for the majority.
For my part, the android smart phone I purchased for around £20.00 on Ebay two years ago does the job. I make calls, I receive calls. I send messages. I receive messages. I look at news and use Skype to catch up with friends. That’s it. I don’t have enough space for endless apps – by design. I switch it off when I’m working (people can contact me through an email on my PC) and place it in another room when I sleep. When I’m waiting or between two activities I look at the world and its people and I remember when this was all analogue and less algorithmic – and artificial.
But perhaps I’m just replying what every older generation does – complain about modernity and the unfamiliar? Yet, this isn’t a satisfactory answer because the times we live in have their roots in the not so distant past, a past that was seeded with the same psycho-pathogens that guarantees the development of the true and beautiful is enslaved by what is base and destructive.
What’s so bad about the smart phone you whining middle-aged git?
That was the inference behind the question my millennial niece asked me recently, though thankfully, she couched it in more polite terms.
Well, let’s try an answer it.
“When these things first appeared, they were so cool. Only when it was too late did people realize they are as cool as electronic tags on remand prisoners.”
– David Mitchell
Marketing to Millennials
Millennials are by far the most digitally connected generation of our times. Those individuals like my niece aged between 18-24 are the biggest demographic regarding smart phone ownership at 98 percent. Older millennials moving into Generation Z (25-34) are close behind, with a 97 percent ownership rate, followed by Gen Xers aged 35-44 at 96 percent.  According to a recent U.S. Mobile App Report from comScore most millennials are excellent “curators” when it comes to applications or “apps” that must feature on their phones and without which life wouldn’t worth living. Surprisingly (for those that follow these trends) Snapchat was assumed to be the most popular choice but it didn’t even feature in the top ten. It is the consumer-fest presence of Amazon that appears to even trump Facebook for popularity, although FB and Google are still very much part of their daily obsession.
In May of this year, the Smartphone and IoT Consumer Trends 2017 (PDF) was published by B2X and with assistance from Prof. Dr. Anton Meyer and Prof. Dr. Thomas Hess from the Institutes of Marketing and New Media at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich. The study was based on more than 2,600 people from Brazil, Germany, India, Russia and the United States and provides sobering insights into the habits of the young and their digital companion. Some of the more dramatic findings include:
- One quarter of Millennials look at their phone more than 100+ times a day
- nearly half of Millennials look at their phone more than 50 times a day, three times the rate of Baby Boomers (15.9%).
- 25% of Millennials spend more than 5 hours on their smartphone each day and more than 50% spend at least 3 hours
- 85% of global consumers keep their smartphone in direct reach all the time.
- more than a quarter keep their smart phone on their body all the time, even at night.
- 57% of smartphone users expect friends and family to respond to messages immediately or at least within a few minutes. 
It seems the data is conclusive that many millennials in particular, are addicted to their little glowing screens – day and night. The most obvious indications came from global smart phone users who would not give up their device for a month – even if a day with a favourite celebrity was thrown in (74%); reject a salary increase (56%); an extra week of vacation (51%); a dream holiday destination (28%) and the offer of $1000 (41%). Most disturbing of all was the finding that a significant percentage would also give up family, friends and sex for a week before losing their smartphone. 11% of Americans would even give up their partner or spouse for a month rather than part with their phone for a year. And 4% would be prepared to go to prison for a month in order to avoid the absence of their phone, also for one year.
Like anyone who is addicted and experiencing diminishing returns, the study revealed that users regularly feel frustrated (27%), lost (26%), stressed (19%) and sad (16%) without their smartphones. Despite all this, people are buying ever more expensive devices while new phones tailored to SMART society and The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly gaining in popularity.
All of the percentages involved in the study were significantly lower for the Baby Boomers, further suggesting that this is something particular to younger generations where the more negative fallout of smart phone use are concentrated. When taking all generations into account surveys have found that people check their phones more than 85 times a day while the majority of millennials and Gen.Z prefer to text than talk to a person, which often equals one day a week on their phones. On balance, it seems these generations prefer to engage with their smart phones more than they do real people.   Factor in the aforementioned 3-5 hours a day of phone use and you can understand one journalist’s question: “Can you imagine what reality is going to look like in another decade or two?”
And what exactly are Millennials aged 13-33 doing with their smartphones everyday? What comes top in their daily activities?
Social media and messaging, the implications of which will be pertinent in the next few posts.
What Millennials & Teens Are Doing On Their Smartphones Every Single Day, YPulse, August 2016.
“Millennials …interact with their smartphone more than anything or anyone else.”
As this intense phone activity includes business, financial transactions, travel and shopping then the statistics for less real-life interaction won’t come as a huge surprise. Millennials and their phones define their lives. Debts are accounted for using various apps for an instantaneous payback while financial planning and savings strategy are all carried out with the aid of apps, which means they never actually go into a physical bank or have contact with anyone financial at all. This is true for most of us, but millennials are taking it to the next level by having all of their financial activity on their phones. And this is just the way bankers want it. According to research firm Aite Group, apps for finance transactions was 47 percent more than in 2015 and it was fueled by two trends: “people being more comfortable using their smartphones as a wallet and many Millennials preferring not to carry cash”. So, this generation is naturally conditioned to accept the push for a cashless society, something the Establishment has been pushing for a number of years. 
Shopping with cash and credit cards is fast becoming a thing of the past. Millennials with upwards of 63 percent shopping on their phones everyday and a 84 percent using their phones to assist their choices while in a store. With those statistics to hand, retailers are gearing up to “leverage” still further that purchasing potential. As one retail analyst “Mobile is not so much a disrupter as it is an enabler in the customer journey.” In other words, the smartphone is about to be a retail paradise and an efficient means for the consumer to buy his goods more quickly and efficiently. It also means that addiction becomes yet more seductive with nothing more than a swipe or click to purchase the next buffer to reality. The consequences of embracing this virtual ease are coming home to roost.
So, what are smart phones actually doing to the mental health of the young? As you might imagine, all is not so smart.
Depression, Suicide and Loneliness
Although millennials are fielding the brunt of SMART engineering it is tweens and teenagers who seem to more more vulnerable with rates of depression and suicide going through the roof since 2011. Unhappiness floats between these two extremes. With childhood stretching well into adulthood with heights of infantilism normalised in popular culture; economic realities and the rise of tribalism, more teenagers are at home and often alone, while tweens (aged 9-12) are soaking an enormous amount of information from the stresses of their elder brother or sister, acting as role models and absorbing a greater portion of smart-life in general. Aside from all the pressures already existing in our societies which didn’t go away just because technology boomed, kids are having to navigate through a reality that is rapidly being replaced by a virtual one. And as we shall see, the younger the brain the more harm smart phones and tablets may do.
The number of teens meeting with their friends almost every day saw a large decrease of 40 percent from 2000-2015. Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University and author of The Narcissism Epidemic (discussed here) says: “It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. That’s something most teens used to do: nerds and jocks, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students. The roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot—they’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web”.  More from Twenge presently.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a nationwide survey of 17,000 children between the years 2010 – 2016 and found that those who had experienced at least one major depressive episode jumped by 60 percent. Another survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that death from suicide among 10 -19 year-olds has also spiked during the same period with women suffering the most parallel to the higher rise in female narcissism. In fact, suicide among teen girls has reached 40-year highs which correlates to the explosion in smartphone usage compared to the rates of adolescent depression in the late 1990s-200os which had slightly declined or remained steady.   Although the research isn’t definitive, nor does correlation equal causation, these findings are, at the very least, a significant contributory factor in the declining mental health of the young.
National surveys showed a 33 percent jump in symptoms of depression in teens along with a 23 percent spike in suicide attempts and massive 31 percent increase in those who committed suicide. In only five years, those statistics are shocking. As discussed in The Narcissism Factor in this series, it is unlikely to have been income inequality, unemployment or the increasing economic challenges generally since these issues have been developing for much longer. Nor does Twenge see education or academic pressure as a cause because time spent on homework and related studies remained unchanged. A clue to smart phone usage being one of the culprits is the 50 percent increase in ownership in 2012 – exactly the time that suicides began to sharply increase for teenagers.
Since, by 2015, 73 percent of this demographic had access to a smartphone and with numerous health studies indicating an increase in suicidal thoughts and symptoms of depression by spending more than five hours a day online, it suggests that the two go together. And when we say “online” that inevitably means Facebook, MySpace, Twitter etc. Before smart phone ownership and usage became a constant, the time spent online using a lap-top may have offered enough breaks to ameliorate the effects. But now, as the statistics indicate above, there is little to no respite.
Clearly, excessive screen time has tangible effects on mental health, exacerbating compulsive behaviours by altering hormonal levels and brainwave patterning that can lead to taking one’s own life. All the above explains the commensurate rise in loneliness. The advantages of solitude and taking time out from the world are well known. But technology and its constant stimulus means that alone time does not afford true solitude or contemplation, especially since nature and the outdoors doesn’t feature. And it if does, it is filtered through the phone that becomes an intermediary preventing a direct connection. When we are habituated to stimulus being alone becomes that much more challenging, in the same way that a drug addict begins to go “cold turkey” when deprived of drink. Factor in personality traits and a pre-disposition to dependency and melancholia this is likely to be a heady brew.
Loneliness was lurking as a societal problem that afflicts young and old alike way before the advent of virtual reality. According to the AARP’s Loneliness Study almost 43 million adults from Generation x and Baby Boomers in the United States suffer from chronic loneliness, going hand in hand with the onset of depression – even premature death. There are a significant amounts of studies rolling in highlighting the correlation between smartphone use and loneliness. Unsurprisingly, it is more and more common in teenagers. 
Although yet to find a definitive cause – and unless they encompass a wide multidisciplinary approach to a set of tangled issues, they probably won’t – one Korean study from Asian Nursing Research did find a correlation between attachment disorders, anxiety and smartphone addiction. It seems smartphones can become objects of attachment fulfilling an obvious lack of emotional nourishment and meaning. Why does anything become an addiction? Something essential is lacking in the person be it parental neglect or the absence of social support to cope with these demons. (These causes have been discussed extensively in this blog and are symptoms of Official Culture and the pathologising of normality). 
We should also remember that while the younger generations are the smartphones’ main target it would be foolish to think that they are the only ones. A report in the Toronto Sun included another study which showed that older generations have not been left out of the technology loop. While 94 percent of younger generations are the most frequent users of smartphones, people aged of 55 to 64 rank a close second at 92 percent. Smartwatches, are also more popular with senior folk, presumably due to the health monitoring functions: “…the oldest generation has the highest rate of daily use … “For those ages 55 to 75, daily use of smart watches reached 75%, compared to just 58% for 18 to 24-year-olds.” 
photo: Gaelle Marcelle | Unsplash.com
Sleep Disruption and Work
Smart phone addiction often means that sleep suffers. With 65 percent of millennials looking at their phone within five minutes of waking and a further 60 percent before retiring, smartphones might as well be plugged in to their brains. (No doubt that will come).  Russell E. Johnson, psychology scientist and management professor at Michigan State University conducted two studies, one with management level employees and the second with a wider range of workers. Both found that “late-night smartphone use for work purposes interferes with sleep and leaves workers more depleted in the morning and less engaged at work the next day.” 
The studies found that smart phones emit light in a different way to television, tablet or PCs and interfere with sleep patterns as a result. Although these technologies can have the same effect it is the habitual and constant presence of smart phones that is the key factor. The blocking of the hormone melatonin needed for sleep; the stimulation of the adrenal glands and therefore cortisol required for the regulation of metabolism and immune system all means that the body and mind is always on a low level “high alert” messing up the endocrine system over time. This has implications for the rise in mental illness. 
The communication of choice for the young and not so young is texting. The research of one Karla Klein Murdock, a psychology professor at Washington and Lee University discovered that “college students who texted heavily took longer to fall asleep, slept less, and felt tired during the day. And texting also exacerbated stress problems for many students.”  And stress is the primary source of most of our ills today.
Other studies have produced compelling data that just as teens are forever hooked in to their peer group and the pressures therein, the millennial and Generation Z workers now bring their work home with them. Combine the two worlds of leisure and work from dusk til dawn along with a thousand other worries and concerns we can see how this little device and its seductive glow is more of a hindrance than a boon. But this is not true for everyone it seems. Some research has shown that phone use for work-related tasks which followed them home acted as a buffer to stress when they used their phones most intensively at work, whereas still more people experienced an increase of stress and sleeplessness only when they used it for personal use rather than their job. In the latter instance, while the phone helped with the workload of their job, the down side was an increase in family and friends muscling in for attention. It seems how well we cope with owning a smart phone usage is also a lot to do with the type of personality we have and perhaps even where we find ourselves on the economic and class ladder.
To reiterate what smartphone addiction means: social media, email and text messaging stimulate the same biological neural networks associated with substance abuse. Combined with the erosion of interpersonal relationships discussed previously, young users very neurology is “re-wired” upsetting the endocrine balance of the body-mind matrix. And this is on top of the health issues from mobile phones in general. 
More discoveries of what smartphone use is doing to the brain are appearing every month. For example, text messaging on smartphones and i-pads actually triggers a new type of brain rhythm. Dr. Tatum, professor of neurology and of the epilepsy monitoring unit and epilepsy center at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida believes: “…this new rhythm is an objective metric of the brain’s ability to process non-verbal information during use of electronic devices and that it is heavily connected to a widely distributed network augmented by attention or emotion.” With implications for both addiction and social skills, it appears this different brain wave rhythm could be particular to smaller screens, simply because they require more concentration. 
Further alterations of the brain’s neurological activity were discovered in a study first published in Reuters then Scientific American in 2017. Texting, scrolling web pages and checking your email on your smartphone might be changing the way your thumbs and brain interacts. Dr. Arko Ghosh, of the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, Switzerland, used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the cortical brain activity on a relatively small sample of smartphone users. He states: “Brain activity was significantly enhanced when all three fingertips touched the screen and activity in the cortex of the brain associated with the thumb and index fingertips was directly proportional to the intensity of phone use.” By extracting data from brains scans and phone logs they found that “repetitive movements over the touchscreen surface reshape sensory processing from the hand, with daily updates in the brain’s representation of the fingertips.” Essentially, it confirms the high probability that “cortical sensory processing in the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by personal digital technology.” 
Since teenagers brains and cortical brain activity is still developing this is especially interesting in the context of challenging tasks which is naturally better the older the brain. In particular, the corticostriatal network plays a significant role in high stakes challenges which are dependent on preparation, foresight and the ability to adjust performance requirements. Couple this with research which has found that smartphones greatly reduce our attention spans and make us far less effective at completing especially difficult and detailed tasks it begs the question: Do these brain wave alterations impact the development of these brain structures in ways that may explain the inability of millennials to cope with life?  
Similarly, could it be that these alterations are making us lazier in our thinking? Are not smartphones an “external memory source” and can thus affect our ability to exercise our intelligence? Alongside the biochemical nature of smartphone addiction Dr, Gordon Pennycook believes so.
A postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo he and his researchers published a paper in the scientific journal Computers in Human Behavior which found “a link between excessive smartphone use and lowered intelligence”. Pennycook tell us: “Those who rely on intuitive thinking are more likely to use a smartphone’s search engine for answers. Analytical thinkers use a device’s web browser far less and demonstrate stronger cognitive skills and reasoning”… “Intelligence is discretionary — people have to deliberately engage their intelligence to solve problems.” He offers an analogy to explain this point further: “Think of the brain as a car. You have a Ferrari — and that’s like having a very smart, computationally advanced brain — but the gas pedal determines whether or you actually use it or not. If my grandmother had a Ferrari, it would not — practically speaking — be a very fast car, because she would never push the pedal that much. You can be very intelligent and also not exercise its intelligence.” 
Though speculative at this stage, surely it is common sense that the more you use a device that reduces the potential of rigorous learning and real-world connections the more the foundation for analytical reasoning and critical thought – the very search for knowledge – is impaired and reduced. Applied to young brains, this is rather like coppicing trees in the wrong season which, instead of encouraging future growth stunts it. When young minds are presented with pre-packaged information and ready-made answers certain areas of the brain are less likely to fire new synapses and new clusters of neurological connections – the building blocks of creativity.
It is quite true that many of these studies are still work in progress. Which means that there is a lot of speculation and correlation which the mainstream media – most of whom have a love affair with technology in its own right – have seized upon with glad cries. Definitive causation still eludes many of these studies. We will have to wait a bit longer to obtain the kind of proof that will satisfy most. However, even then, much like vaccines, pharmaceuticals and other cartels of Official Culture, no amount of proof will affect the juggernaut of profits running at high velocity.
Meantime, the glimpses into neurological change continues.
“When schools ban smartphones, student exam scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting most.”
— technology author Nicolas Carr, “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds”
According to a new study from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, the mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power. Neuroscience.com reported the findings of Assistant Professor Adrian Ward and co-authors who: “…conducted experiments with nearly 800 smartphone users in an attempt to measure, for the first time, how well people can complete tasks when they have their smartphones nearby even when they’re not using them.” They discovered a significant decrease in cognitive capacity and cognitive function. Ward explains: “We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases. Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.” 
The introduction of an entirely new brain wave pattern and the continuous reshaping of cortical processes, combined with all these other deleterious factors is likely going to cancel out any of the so called benefits of smartphones. Which brings us to what this may be doing to the plasticity of pre-school brains.
In the same way that the effects of television and computer games are understood to decrease language and social skills it suggests the same can be said for the smartphone and tablet. The type and severity of these adverse effects will depend on the age and therefore the stage of brain development. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine reviewed studies on new technology as an educational tool for toddlers, and speculated as to whether providing a tablet or smartphone to young children during crucial stages of early brain development could be detrimental to their “their social-emotional development”.
While their are undoubted benefits to interactive media in terms of vocabulary and reading comprehension for preschool children and older, toddlers under three years old could experience impairment for the development of mathematical/problem-solving skills needed for the future, (not least the introduction to their experience of addiction). While mobile devices do have positives for early literacy and increase academic learning for autistic children, the general use of such media by toddlers is far from positive. The researchers posed the question: “If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, will they be able to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation?” 
Do we see a predominance of “self-regulation” in the young these days? It seems many millennials are providing evidence for a resounding “no” on that score.
How many times have we seen parents placate their children by placing an i-pad or smartphone in their hands to head off a hissy fit or as some form of reward? Quite frequently. That said, there are many parents that will use i-pads in creative collaboration with regulated use means that this technology can be used constructively. Yet, this implies the time, money and increasingly informed parenting that allows such attention. Many parents – even most parents – simply aren’t in that demographic for a variety of reasons. Those that are high on the potential of technology and rightly critique the lack of hard data often view the ideal set-up for family life where such technology is used moderately and in perfect balance. That seldom happens. For instance, according to a recent Guardian report an Australian Child Health Poll found a “third of preschoolers and two-thirds of primary school-aged children own smartphones or tablets – and 50% of them are using them unsupervised…” In an ideal world these devices would be regulated but that is not the reality.
Giving a kid a phone “feels a little like trying to teach your kid how to use cocaine, but in a balanced way.”
— Parents’ Dilemma: When to Give Children Smartphones, By Betsy Morris
While a definitive proof of neurological “damage” apparently absent there are numerous studies showing negative health effects on young children which include sleep difficulties, unhealthy weight gain and difficulties with social and emotional well-being – all of which affect neurology. Since interactive media can be addictive, are we setting up the child to be a future addict while also harming the child’s neurological development at the same time? Since infants and toddlers’ brains develop best through REAL interaction with other human beings and the natural world, technology that is designed for a mature brain may indeed do great harm, not least to proper emotional development. Is this a contributory factor in the mental illness and lack of resilience that we see in the younger generations today?
Are they correct to say that excessive use of such media can cause “brain damage” as reported by some journalists?
It depends if you think neurological impairment and interference with the brain development of an infant equates with such damage. Nonetheless, the definitive evidence is lacking since the use of i-pads and smartphone use has expanded so rapidly. More qualitative studies are needed as a result. Similarly, reductive science does see related patterns, and warning signs from a host of multidisciplinary factors from which we may extrapolate important data. Nothing happens in isolation – everything is interconnected, from narcissistic family dynamics to formal education; the disconnection from nature to the poor diet; to excessive use of interactive media and the absence of it. If we look at data in isolation without cross-referencing or analysing/comparing data within a range of contexts we miss the big picture and as ever, become obsessed with minutiae which may or may not reveal a broader, richer dynamic that brings the whole picture into sharper focus and the new answers that come with such a synthesis.
As ever, funding may be problematic since it is a highly profitable industry and like anything that shows major glitches in the rosy picture presented – especially when it is being incorporated into our social infrastructure – one can expect a high degree of resistance.
And while neurological damage is concerning the potential damage to young bodies is also worrying.
If anyone now rejects how intimately our minds and bodies are enmeshed it will come as no surprise that smartphones and i-pads have very real world dangers. The number of hours we spend locked into our little screens has been responsible for a huge rise in back and neck problems in the young – a rise of 60 percent in one year. The British Chiropractic Association said: “…that increasing numbers of under 30s are seeking medical help because they are spending up to 10 hours a day sitting down, often behind screens.” And if you have back/neck pain and listening to someone talk on their mobile, if you are driving or attempting to cross the street while engrossed in your social media texting expect to join the growing list of smartphone-related accidents and deaths thanks to a 37 percent reduced level of attention.
“Smart means exploitable”
–– Rik Ferguson, Counter Measures
Smartphones and social media allow intelligence agencies in the UK and the United States to hack, track and eavesdrop on your texts and conversations. According to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency uses a suite of tools that allow them to take over the phone with just one text message as well as gaining access to the camera and microphones. Moreover, they can hide the fact that the phone is not in our control anymore and prevent service engineers discovering the phone has been hacked. The software used is called “Smurf Suite” each with individual functions which allow GCHQ to effectively own your phone – and your daily activities.
Snowden’s lawyer said the same thing in 2014 when he revealed his avoidance of i-phones due to these same security issues. His lawyer stated: “…it has special software that can activate itself without the owner having to press a button and gather information about him, that’s why on security grounds he refused to have this phone”.  Snowden further explained that GCHQ can monitor “who you call, what you’ve texted, the things you’ve browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you’ve been [and] the wireless networks that your phone is associated with. And they can do much more. They can photograph you”.  (Something to think about when we realise the sheer daily quantity of intimate selfies shared between millions of smartphones). And that was about three years ago. But it doesn’t end there.
Wikileaks has revealed that the CIA is placing surveillance deep inside your own home and even your own car. In fact, anything connected to the smart grid is up for grabs by intelligence agencies whether that is your anti-virus software, electricity smart meter or flat screen TV.  In the words of tech writer Rik Ferguson: “smart means exploitable” which translates into the State freely mining information about everyone while justifying such intrusion through the canard of anti-terrorism, child porn and paedophilia. As we have discussed previously all over this blog, protection for the public is not the primary directive – but social control most certainly is.
If government spooks can control your phone and gain access to your personal information with a view to exploiting it, then there’s little you can do except refuse to own one. That may make life more complicated but it also means saying you will not be owned by the State. More importantly, your peace of mind, quality of life and your very brain function may then have the time to repair itself.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with free speech.
The surveillance angle is merely one spoke in the wheel. The real danger here is how smart technology is rewiring brains so that civil rights abuses simply won’t be considered as important anymore because the level of critical thinking and outrage needed to combat State intrusions won’t be there. Or it will be so warped and re-directed as to be ineffectual, something we are certainly witnessing through the Social Justice Warriors movement in all its horrible glory.
We are now reaching a state where the only way that free speech and greater awareness can be reduced and finally eradicated is through the dumbing down and neurological subversion of emerging generations, this time through the primary means of communication: the smartphone – the entry-point to social media. Make no mistake, an uninformed, and disabled young populace where it counts and who are tuned in to technology but tuned out to the consequences can only contribute to the disappearance of free thought, let alone free speech. And we are seeing the results of what this new technology is doing to young minds both in terms of distorted activism and the reconfiguration of values.
When we are surveilled, monitored and tracked through our phones which are increasingly becoming the interface between our bank, livelihood and lesiure, the very concept of free speech becomes a caricature of democracy. And we are willingly permitting such an erosion of freedom.
In the next post we’ll take a closer look at how that plays out by exploring social media giant Facebook and its relationship to the above.
 ‘Millennials Are Top Smartphone Users’ Digital November 15th, 2016.
 ‘Smartphones are damaging this generation’s mental health’ by Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University, November 17, 2017.
 ‘Survey: Majority of millennials, Gen Z adults prefer texting over talking in person’ By Daniel Steingold, Study Finds, 18 Oct 2017. | ‘Millennials spend one day every week on their phones – how can brands deal with the digital divide?’ transglobal.com / Kantar TNS May/August 2015.
’The real Zombie Apocalypse? People check their Smart Phones 85 times a day! By Melissa Dykes, Daily Sheeple,, 29 Oct 2015 | ‘Millennials and Generation Z Interact more through phones and apps than in real life report finds’ By Aatif Sullyman, The Independent, 19th October 2017.
 ‘Smartphones influence 84pc of millennials shopping in stores: report’ By Jaekel Brielle, RetailDIVE, August 2016.
 ‘Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?’ By Jean M. Twenge, The Atlantic, September 2017.
 ‘We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones’ By Markham Heid, Time, October 10, 2017.
 ‘Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time|Jean M. Twenge, Thomas E. Joiner Megan L. Rogers November 14, 2017, Clincial Psychological Science/ Sage journals.
 ‘Linking Loneliness, Shyness, Smartphone Addiction Symptoms, and Patterns of Smartphone Use to Social Capital’Louis Leung, Clincial Psychological Science/ Sage journals, April 8, 2017.
 Structural Equation Model of Smartphone Addiction Based on Adult Attachment Theory: Mediating Effects of Loneliness and Depression’ Eun Young Kim PhD,Eun Joo Kim, Asian Nursing Research Volume 11, Issue 2, June 2017, Pages 92-97.
 ‘Millennials might not be the only ones addicted to their smartphones’, Toronto Sun, November 16th, 2017.
 ‘65% of millennials look at their smartphone within five minutes of waking’ IPA, September 20th 2017.
 ‘The Psychological Toll of the Smartphone’ By Scott Sleek, Association for Psychological Science (APS) May/June, 2014.
 ‘Excessive Screen Time Linked to Increased Suicide Risk’ Neurosciencenews.com, December 1, 2017.
 op.cit. Sleek.
 ‘Neurological dysfunction and mobile phones’ Rajiv Saini, Santosh Saini, and Sugandha Sharma.| Neuroscience Rural Pract 2010 Jan-Jun; 1(1): 57–58. PMCID: PMC3137841 | ‘Health risks associated with mobile phones use’, Zahid Naeem,Int J Health Sci (Qassi.com). 2014 Oct; 8(4): V–VI. PMCID: PMC4350886.
 ‘Text Messaging with Smartphones Triggers a New Type of Brain Rhythm’ By Sarah Waterhouse, Elsevier, June 16th 2017.
 ‘Smartphone Use Appears to Change How Brains and Thumbs Interact’ By Jim Dury, Reuters, 2017.
 ‘Teen brains find it challenging to properly recognise and react to the importance of tasks’ By David Nield, Science Alert, December 3rd, 2017.
 ‘Why smartphones are making you ill’ – As a study finds that smartphones are causing back ailments, here are some of the health risks caused by your mobile, By Olivia Goldhill, The Telegraph, April 13th, 2015.
 ‘What your smartphone addiction is doing to your brain’ By Aric Suber-Jenkins, mic.com, December 8th 2016.
 ‘The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Brain Power’ By Samantha Harris, Neuroscience News, June 26, 2017.
 ‘Tablets and smartphones may affect social and emotional development, scientists speculate’ By Joanna Walters, The Guardian, February 2nd 2015. | ‘Mobile and interactive media use by young children: The good, the bad and the unknown’ Pediatrics January 2015, VOLUME 135 / ISSUE 1, Jenny S. Radesky, Jayna Schumacher, Barry Zuckerman.
 ‘One-third of preschoolers own smartphones or tablets, child health poll finds’ The Guardian, June 20th 2017.
 op.cit Goldhill.
 ‘Edward Snowden: Smart Phones can be hacked into with just one Text Message and then used to spy on their owners.’ By Andrew Griffin, The Independent, October 5th 2017.
 ‘Smartphones and government surveillance – where privacy and security collide’ By Lee Munson, October 7, 2015.
 ‘WikiLeaks: The CIA is using popular TVs, smartphones and cars to spy on their owners’ By Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Ellen Nakashima, The Switch, March 7th, 2017.