Apple will offer more ways for people to limit the time they spend on iPhones. Features introduced Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference aim to address criticism that devices are becoming increasingly addictive and distracting. (June 5)
In the depths of the Cold War, Western countries and the Soviet Union were engaged in a lot of research that some would consider strange. While much covert research went into developing new weapons to gain and keep a military advantage, billions were surreptitiously spent on research (such as the CIA’s infamous Project MKULTRA) into whether the human brain could be controlled.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of the Cold War, details of many of these projects began to surface. Some involved looking into whether humans could view or even control objects at a distance, whether drugs and various techniques could help unlock the brain’s hidden potential, and whether thoughts could be implanted into an unknowing public with the goal of changing their minds toward some strategic end. If you could control the thoughts of people in an enemy nation, the thinking went, you could make them unwittingly carry out plans for their own destruction.
While most of these plots have been endlessly rehashed in books, Hollywood movies and conspiracy websites, the essential question of whether and how to control the human mind has been — at least as far as we know — unanswered. But taking a look around at today’s world, it would be easy for a conspiracy theorist to imagine that someone’s experiment in mind control was a success, and the weapon was a smartphone.
Hyperbole? Maybe. But there is plenty to be concerned about when it comes to smartphones. In the past, I’ve written about how they affect the human brain and how their use is causing our teens to lose out on quality sleep and reducing their classroom performance. Their use can be fatal, such as when people text and drive (or even text and walk), or when cyberbullying leads to suicide. And when our kids watch us stare slavishly at the flickering blue screen, they want to join in, with unknown effects on their developing brains.
Today, getting away from a cell signal is nearly unthinkable for many. But is it even possible to get away and return for a while to a simpler time? Doing so may require a trip to a remote area without cell service; such areas are becoming harder and harder to find. But it doesn’t have to; perhaps it just means reminding yourself who’s in control, and summer’s a great time to try. In a column this week on the tech site CNET, Marguerite Reardon addressed this topic. “Vacations are supposed to be relaxing,” Reardon reminds us, “so why are you stressing yourself out with emails and alerts?”
It’s a good question. Reardon offers some intuitive answers. The first step, she advises, is to let your family and friends know you will be out of pocket for a while. “Tell colleagues, friends and family that you’ll answer their calls and emails when you return. If there’s a true emergency, they’ll figure out a way to get in touch with you,” she explains.
Secondly, set realistic limits. “There are certain situations where you may want your smartphone to help you find landmarks or restaurants. And who even owns a camera anymore?” Reardon asks. “You don’t have to go cold turkey. You just have to decide which activities are OK for phone use — like allowing yourself to post vacation photos to Instagram once a day.”
She gives a number of other helpful tips, such as putting your phone into airplane mode (which will still allow you to take pictures and video and listen to music but will silence social media and alerts); putting your phone away in the hotel safe and rediscovering the joy of reading a good book.
Perhaps she’s right. True relaxation doesn’t just mean lying on a beach or in a hammock somewhere. Maybe by getting away for a while, we could rediscover life away from the beeps, buzzes and screens all around us. But we have to make the choice to flip the switch.
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