Are Mobile Devices Healthy?

It’s easy to see that mobile technology has vastly changed the way we all connect over the last few decades. Today, we can connect with nearly anyone across the globe in just a few moments, and we have easy access to more information than we could read in a whole lifetime. As our world becomes more and more interconnected through mobile devices, many people have questioned the effects of this interconnectedness on our mental and physical health as well as the health of our relationships. On one side, people praise mobile technology for making everyday tasks much simpler and faster, and making it easier to stay connected to loved ones. On the other side, many people wonder if the pervasiveness of mobile tech is making us more anxious and disconnected than ever.

This debate is multifaceted and complicated, so to help you sort through your own relationship with mobile devices, we’ve rounded up a selection of books offering different perspectives on mobile devices, how we use them, and how they’re affecting us.

Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

At a time when we’re all trying to make sense of our relentlessly connected lives, this book presents a bold new approach to the digital age. Part intellectual journey, part memoir, Hamlet’s BlackBerry sets out to solve what William Powers calls the conundrum of connectedness. Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave. Hamlet’s BlackBerry argues that we need a new way of thinking, an everyday philosophy for life with screens. To find it, Powers reaches into the past, uncovering a rich trove of ideas that have helped people manage and enjoy their connected lives for thousands of years. New technologies have always brought the mix of excitement and stress that we feel today. Drawing on some of history’s most brilliant thinkers, from Plato to Shakespeare to Thoreau, he shows that digital connectedness serves us best when it’s balanced by its opposite, disconnectedness.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Consider Facebook—it’s human contact, only easier to engage with and easier to avoid. Developing technology promises closeness. Sometimes it delivers, but much of our modern life leaves us less connected with people and more connected to simulations of them. In Alone Together, MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle explores the power of our new tools and toys to dramatically alter our social lives. It’s a nuanced exploration of what we are looking for—and sacrificing—in a world of electronic companions and social networking tools, and an argument that, despite the hand-waving of today’s self-described prophets of the future, it will be the next generation who will chart the path between isolation and connectivity.

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter

Welcome to the age of behavioral addiction—an age in which half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans. In this revolutionary book, Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why so many of today’s products are irresistible. Though these miraculous products melt the miles that separate people across the globe, their extraordinary and sometimes damaging magnetism is no accident. The companies that design these products tweak them over time until they become almost impossible to resist. By reverse engineering behavioral addiction, Alter explains how we can harness addictive products for the good—to improve how we communicate with each other, spend and save our money, and set boundaries between work and play—and how we can mitigate their most damaging effects on our well-being, and the health and happiness of our children.

The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind by Richard Restak

The era ofthe New Brain is upon us! Already our brains are working differently than they did just one hundred years ago. Drugs are already available that work in the brain to prevent us from feeling drowsy, depressed, anxious, or fearful, or that enhance concentration and memory. Dramatic treatments to repair damage in the brain are becoming common. In The New Brain, neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, and bestselling author Dr. Richard Restak tells how technology and biology are converging to influence the evolution of the human brain. Dr. Restak describes the dramatic advances that now are possible, as well as the potential for misuse and abuse, examining such questions as: Is Attention Deficit Disorder a “normal” response to the modern world’s demand that we attend to several things at once? What happens in our brains when images replace language as the primary means of communication? How does exposure to violent imagery affect our brains? Are we all capable of training our brains to perform at a superior level?

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

“Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, or are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply? Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computerl. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.  He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.

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