The Smartphone's Role In Dumbing-Down America

Posted In: News, Investigative Reporting, National,   From Issue 934   By: Bruce Wilds via Advancing Time Blog with Additional Reporting by Robert Martin

25th August, 2022     0

“The first thing to realize is that most people go through life with a whole world of beliefs that have no sort of rational justification, and that one man’s world of beliefs is apt to be incompatible with another man’s, so that they cannot both be right. People’s opinions are mainly designed to make them feel comfortable; truth, for most people is a secondary consideration.”

― Bertrand Russell

While the smartphone began as a significant source to move us forward, it has begun to play a huge role In dumbing down America, transforming into an albatross around the necks of many weak-minded souls that depend on them. People turn to these devices for all kinds of unneeded updates, ranging from solving simple math problems so they don't have to think to correcting mis-applications of spell-check errors that they did not create in the first place.

Originated in 1933, the term "dumbing down" was movie-business slang, used by screenplay writers, meaning: "to revise to appeal to those of little education or intelligence." For those with little drive or purpose, the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy find great comfort in the constant flow of dribble a cell phone can provide.

In short, dumbing down is the deliberate oversimplification of intellectual content in education, literature, cinema, news, video games, and culture.

It should be noted this is being written just as the world is on the cusp of being offered a whole new recipe that may lead to more social dysfunction, which comes in the form of "virtual reality" that offers an even stronger form of escapism that may result in damaging the ability of people to relate to each other in the real world. Especially worrisome is the affect it might have on children that experience and embrace it, which could easily impair their ability to separate this fake virtual world from reality.

A great deal of the problems with smartphones are rooted in the idea that as opposed to needing one, everyone deserves one. Smartphones are now considered by many people as an extension of their being.  Years ago a government program started supplying free phones to people with low incomes or that have been declared needy. At that time these phones became known as "Obama Phones”.

This popular government program explains why we see so many people that would appear to not have a dime in their pockets walking along or driving down the street talking on a cell phone. It is a program meant to help the financially unstable who cannot afford access to a cell phone and is predicated  upon the notion that communication should not be limited to people based on what they can afford.

This Lifeline program started decades ago to help low-income families have access to landlines has been expanded. Over the years the cost of cell phones and cellular service has decreased and the program has been extended to cover cell phones.

So who qualifies? It appears little has changed over the years.  If you or members of your household are receiving benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, SSI, or Federal Public Housing Assistance,  you automatically qualify for the Lifeline program. The best way to know if you qualify is by filling out an application for a Lifeline provider in your state. Those interested in the program must have an income of less than 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or about $22,350 per year for a family of four.

Lifeline is a government-sponsored program, but who is paying for it?

Universal Service Fund (USF) which is administered by the Federal Communication Commission along with the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), pays for the Lifeline phone assistance program. The Universal Service Fund (USF) was created back in 1997 by Federal Communication Commission to achieve the goals set by Congress under the Telecommunication Act of 1996. According to the Act, service providers are obliged to contribute a portion of their interstate and international telecommunications revenues.   In short, paying phone customers are paying for it.

While this is great for assisting the disadvantaged with staying in touch with their doctor and other emergency medical professionals, or keeping in touch with family and other loved ones, it also keeps all segments of the population linked together while carrying their phone in their hand as they go about their business, so all the adverse ramifications can be shared equally.

Smartphones Have Become A Major Distraction

A great deal of attention has been given to some of the ideas and visions the World Economic Forum has floated. A powerful and very visible glimpse was contained in the public relations video entitled: “8 Predictions for the World in 2030.

Its 2030 agenda promotes the idea that  by 2030, "You will own nothing. And you'll be happy."

Smartphones dovetail with edging the general population towards such an existence. With the government transferring the costs for millions of customers to those that pay full price, as opposed to tapping into the trillions expended upon the Military Industrial Complex, another face of corporate welfare is exposed.

According to a recent survey of 15,747 smartphone owners conducted by Statista, 41% of adults check their smartphones several times during an hour, while 11% check them several times a minute.

Meanwhile, in the 18-29 demographic, 22% check them several times a minute!

Interestingly while many people admit they are addicted to these phones that seem to offer a form of escapism from the real world, some users are moving back to dumbphones.

A video by ColdFusion, an Australian-based online media company, looks into this "Anti-Smartphone Revolution." It points out how the dumbphone or what is sometimes called a brick is far less intrusive in our lives.

Surprisingly, it is those users between the age of 25-35 that are leading this charge.

Are Smartphones Making Us Slaves To Big Tech?

We should never underestimate the role of the smartphone in dumbing down America. We can only hope people will begin to take a closer look at these society-changing devices.

When a phone will provide the answer to simple math problems many people no longer feel compelled to learn or memorize the things which give us perspective and help us to understand the world around us. It has become apparent, that smartphones change more than society. They change people, too. Being able to push a few buttons does not necessarily make you smarter.

According to Neuroscience Professor Mark Williams at MacQuarie University in Australia, research shows that smartphones are making us stupider, less social, more forgetful, more prone to addiction, sleepless and depressed, and poor at navigation – so why are we giving them to kids?

Recent mobile phone bans in Australian Victorian state schools have had some parents and kids up in arms, despite a study showing that 80 per cent of Australians support the ban. Many private schools are now implementing phone and device bans in schools – but they too face fierce opposition.

“There’s lots of evidence showing that the information you learn on a digital device, doesn’t get retained very well and isn’t transferred across to the real world,” states Williams. “You’re also quickly conditioned to attend to lots of attention-grabbing signals, beeps and buzzes, so you jump from one task to the other and you don’t concentrate.”

Not only do smartphones affect our memory and our concentration, research shows they are addictive – to the point where they could be a ‘gateway drug’ making users more vulnerable to other addictions.  Smartphones are also linked to reduced social interaction, inadequate sleep, poor real-world navigation, and depression.

“Given what we know about the effect that smartphones and digital devices have on our brains, it’s scary to see how prolific their use is with children from a very young age,” says Williams.

Williams, who spent 10 years studying the neuroscience around people’s perceptions of facial expressions and how these impact our social interactions, became interested in the impact of devices on our brains when his own children started school.

“All of a sudden they wanted to play video games, because that’s what their friends were doing – and the school introduced a bring your own device (BYOD) policy so we had to buy them an iPad,” he says. “I was just like: ‘ We shouldn't be doing this. It's not good for them.’

Williams is currently contributing to a large study at Macquarie investigating the relationship between social media addiction, gaming addiction and porn addiction.

“All addiction is based on the same craving for a dopamine response, whether it's drug, gambling, alcohol or phone addiction,” he says. “As the dopamine response drops off, you need to increase the amount you need to get the same result, you want a little bit more next time. Neurologically, they all look the same.”

Could a child’s smartphone act like a ‘gateway drug’? Many of the apps that are hugely popular on smartphones and devices tap into decades of neuroscience and psychology research funded by the casino and gambling industries, which are designed to be addictive, Williams says.

“Casino-funded research is designed to keep people gambling, and app software developers use exactly the same techniques. They have lots of buzzes and icons so you attend to them, they have things that move and flash so you notice them and keep your attention on the device.”

Williams was a Research Fellow at MIT when the iPhone was first released in 2007, and says the impact worldwide has been astounding. “Undergraduates at MIT hacked into the first locked iPhones within a few hours of their release, and some months later, Apple opened up the App store to developers.”

From invention to having 3.3 billion smartphones operating worldwide in just over a decade, the smartphone revolution has been phenomenal, Williams says – but the profound effects on our brains and their function are already emerging.

“A colleague of mine did a great study two years ago into the ‘phantom vibration’ syndrome, where mobile phone users who are accustomed to having their phone on vibrate mode, will think the buzz is still occurring even when the phone is turned off,” he says.

Around 90 per cent of US university students are thought to experience ‘phantom vibrations', so the researcher took a group to a desert location with no cell reception – and found that even after four days, around half of the students still thought their pocket was buzzing with Facebook or text notifications.

“Tech leaders Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both admit to restricting their children and teens access to technology including smartphones and tablets,” Williams says. “Why would you give a kid something that's just as addictive as gambling?”

“Collaboration is a buzzword with software companies who are targeting schools to get kids to use these collaboration tools on their iPads – but collaboration decreases when you're using these devices,” he says.

“The more time that kids spend on digital devices, the less empathetic they are, and the less they are able to process and recognize facial expressions, so their ability to actually communicate with each other is decreased.”

“There’s about 30 years of research showing that people who read something on a screen will remember 10 to 30 per cent less of the material compared to reading the same material on paper.”

Smartphones also constantly interrupt our train of thought with notifications and buzzes designed to get people to ‘multitask', he says.

“Our brains can’t actually multitask, we have to switch our attention from one thing to another, and each time you switch, there's a cost to your attentional resources. After a few hours of this, we become very stressed.” That also causes us to forget things, he adds.

A study from Norway recently tested how well kids remembered what they learned on screens. One group of students received information on a screen and were asked to memorize it; the second group received the same information on paper. Both groups were tested on their recall.

Unsurprisingly, the children who received the paper version remembered more of the material. But the children with the electronic version were also found to be more stressed, Williams says.


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