Smartphones Why do we call these “smart” phones?

A new study published recently by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows a sharp increase in pedestrian traffic deaths, and cites walking while texting as a possible reason. Have we really come to this?

The latest research is just confirmation of our growing obsession with our devices.  In 2014, pedestrians using their cell phones went to the emergency room with related injuries more than 2,500 times, up from under 250 in 2006. Smartphones and similar devices are now blamed for 10% of pedestrian injuries, and even about six deaths per year.

Numerous studies have demonstrated just how oblivious we can become while using our devices.  A National Geographic experiment proved that many device-focused folks on the street would stroll right past a guy in a gorilla suit without even knowing he was there.  And there was even a (very lucky) fella a few years back who almost walked straight into a wild bear because he was too busy texting.  Yup, that really happened.

And while death or injury by device is legitimately scary, there’s an equally alarming but more insidious toll that handheld technology may be taking on our relationships and mental health.Our collective obsession with being ‘connected’ could actually be serving to distance us from loved ones, and robbing us of the ability to just be in the moment once in a while.

When counseling couples, we often hear about a husband and wife who end their day by checking email or playing a game on their smartphone in bed.  Seems like no big deal, right?  But it’s the little things in our relationships that can chip away at intimacy and connection like slow but powerful forces of nature.  Before you know itthat solid land mass of your marriage has eroded into something unrecognizable.

For people prone to anxiety and depression, devices can become another way to isolate or fuel irrational fears.  Anxiety is driven by ‘what if’ thinking.  Sometimes all it takes to quell the demons of worry and fear (whether or not you realize they’re eating at you) is to be present in a moment.  Breathe.  Notice what’s around you, or who is across from you.  That’s tough to do with your head buried in a phone.Will checking Twitter or Facebook for the 11th time today really do anything to change your mood or your frame of mind?Probably not.But actually calling a friend or taking a (phone-free) walk might.

I challenge you to try a few experiments with your cell phone in the coming days:

If you and your partner routinely forgo a goodnight kiss (or more) in favor of checking your social media accounts, pledge to ban devices from the bedroom for one week.  Talk to each other (what a concept!).  Even watching TV together is better than sinking into the smartphone silos we create without even realizing it.

Or the next time you find yourself tempted to turn to your phone while you’re walking down the street, don’t.  Look around.  Observe the sights and sounds of your environment. Make eye contact with another human being.  Heck–you could even smile at a stranger!  It will probably be more fun than whatever your phone could have offered in that moment.  And, according to the recent study, it just might save your life.