Are Our Phones Really That Smart?

It seems like our smartphones can do everything. They store and play our favorite music, tell us how to get just about anywhere, and keep us connected with our friends on social media. Our phones even allow us to pay for merchandise at the store, alert us when we use our credit cards, keep us up-to-date with the latest news, and notify us of new text and email messages. Yep, we have come a long way from those cool flip phones.

It seems to me that the more our phones can do, the more addicting they become. In fact, at times, it seems we just can’t put them down. Have you ever watched a couple in a restaurant looking at their phones more than each other, or drivers who–even though they know it’s against the law–use their smart phones while they drive?

In January, Neilsen (the research company that tracks what we watch on T.V.) released a report about how we accessed social media last fall. The report said that 85 percent of people 35-49 years old regularly used their smart phone to interact with social media, followed by 82 percent of those 18-34 years old and 60 percent of those 50 years and older.

Most surprising to me was the amount of time we spend on social media using our smart phones. People 35-49 spend about 7 hours a week, followed by those 18-34 who spend 6 hours a week, and those 50 years and older who spent about 4 hours a week on social media. Most fascinating was the news that even when we are watching TV, more than 40 percent of us are also interacting with social media on our phones or computer tablets.

Could smartphones and social media really be that addicting to use?

In a recent PBS Newshour story, a former Google employee and Stanford University graduate, Tristan Harris, was highlighted for starting an organization called “Time Well Spent” to help educate people about the addicting effects of using smartphones and social media. Harris says that software designers are often rewarded based on how long their software captures and keeps our attention; this is what drives advertising and profits.

According to, we check our phone as often as 150 times a day, which fragments our attention, pulling us away from things that are really important and often leaving us feeling distracted. The website says these interruptions make it harder and harder for us to focus our attention on the things we want to accomplish. We become trapped, constantly seeking the new information our smart phones can provide.

To help, the Time Well Spent website says we can make four simple changes to take charge of our smartphone and the information we receive:

  • Only allow notifications from people–not machines. Those constant buzzes and dings are designed to lure us back to places we don’t really need to visit.

  • Create a tools-only home screen. Seeing colorful apps can sometimes tempt us to visit, even when we have other things to do. Instead, limit your home screen to only your most-needed apps like Maps, Calendar, and Notes.

  • Launch applications by typing. This allows you to ask yourself if you really have time.

  • Don’t charge your device in your bedroom. Instead, buy an alarm clock—this allows you to create an electronic-free zone, for the times before you go to bed and when you first wake up.

If you’d like more information and creative tools to help you use your smartphones better, visit

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that using a smartphone (for any reason) while driving is illegal unless your phone is connected to a hands-free device. Please don’t be a distracted driver. Trust me, that text or call can wait.

As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have suggestions on how we can improve please feel free to call me. If you would like to know more about crime in your neighborhood, you can sign up for telephone, cell phone and email notifications by clicking the Nixle button on our website:


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