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Disconnected and Far Better for It

October 7, 2017

A research project conducted recently in Kingston, Ontario., showed that being separated from your smartphone can feel very good.

The experiment was far from extensive, but even with only six teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 being logged out from their social media accounts for just one week, the results still showed a few consistent positives.

Not surprisingly, the teens slept better. Without the distraction of their phones being readily at hand, once the teens realized they would not be able to connect via social media apps, they ended up letting go and experienced longer and deeper sleep than usual.

During the day, they also did something unusual: They went outside. They spent time – sometimes referred to as “IRL” (In Real Life) – with their friends and family. They saw faces other than those via video chat or selfies. They also found themselves thinking more deeply, especially when there was nothing else to do.

The study, led by University of Ottawa researcher Valerie Steeves, was a project called “The Disconnected Challenge.” Smartphones were allowed for school work, checking work and assignment schedules and calling parents. Beyond that, the phones were to be put away, with all social media accounts switched off.

One of the biggest surprises from the study was how easy it seemed to be for the teens to be away from their smartphones. Some people have likened having to give up their smartphone to letting go of a chemical addiction, and, to some extent, it is. Facebook reported that the average user of its primary services – which include Facebook, Messenger and Instagram – spends 50 minutes a day connected to these apps. That is up from 40 minutes a day a year ago. Based on this trend, it is entirely possible that Facebook – having become ever more inventive at pulling eyeballs into its applications – has increased that number of minutes still further as of 2017.

Despite that pull, however, getting away from their phones and social media netted the teens in the study with not just fewer problems but more positives than anyone might have imagined. There were the physical and social changes that brought them back to being more connected with people in a true, physical way. And it turns out that there might have been important medical positives too.

Something not talked about enough today is how electromagnetic fields can affect our bodies. Human beings have their own internal electromagnetic systems, all of which are sensitive to one degree or another to other such fields.

One observation that has been backed up by several studies is that the presence of a cellphone near the brain stimulates glucose production close to where the phone rests. While what happens because of this is not clear, researchers have speculated on everything from a very low interaction to the possibility of the radio waves effectively breaking down the blood-brain barrier and exposing the brain to a number of problems.

A study by the World Health Organization showed a “significantly increased risk” of brain tumors after exposure of “10 years or more.” Eight interphone studies showed that having cellphones next to the brain for extended periods of time could produce as much as a 40% higher risk for gliomas after as little as 30 minutes per day of mobile phone use. Two studies suggested a higher risk of acoustic neuromas (tumors between the ear and the brain), with as much as 3.9 times higher possible impact after exposure to close cellphone radiation. And another study suggested a higher incidence of tumors related to the salivary glands.

Though there were no noticeable adverse medical effects after only one week, all the points mentioned above are good reasons to avoid holding a cellphone near your brain for extended periods of time. They would not be noticeable in such a short time as one week.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery made by the researchers in this study was that when the teens were away from their cellphones and social media accounts, they recorded having longer periods of deep thought. This observation has been backed up by other recent studies, which have suggested that the “downtime” of boredom and free time may be a necessary part of not just deep thinking but also intense creative thought.

If being away from smartphones and social media for only seven days can bring about so many positives, just imagine what would happen if these things were not around at all.

That is indeed food for some very deep thoughts.