May 11, 2024
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May 11, 2024
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Time for an iPhone Rebrand: My Suggestion Is ‘Growth Inhibitor’

Ken Segall, the former creative director for Apple’s advertising agency, is known as the man who came up with the “i” in the iPhone. Segall shared some of the other names that were under consideration for this ubiquitous device, such as Telepod, Mobi, Tripod and iPad. The decision to brand it as a phone, even though it has many other functions, was a smashing marketing success, shaping our view of the smartphone’s utility.

We consider the phone application first and foremost when making decisions related to our own personal devices. Most parents, for example, when explaining to others why they decided to buy their young child a smartphone, will describe the need to be in touch with their children when they are out and about. The logic behind this rationale for buying a phone is clearly flawed. If one needs to be in constant communication with their child, an old-fashioned cheap flip phone suffices. But an old-fashioned flip phone is not what their third or fifth grade child is pleading for. That child wants unfettered access to all types of social media and entertainment options.

Nevertheless, we agree to buy a phone for our young children and rationalize the decision because, well, it’s a phone. Thus, the marketers at Apple have done a fabulous job achieving their goal of selling as many iPhones to all demographics, including our own children.

The technology companies have lulled us into a tacit acceptance of our current predicament, knowing that our discontent over our children’s smartphone usage is either not quite bothersome enough or is too hard to overcome for us to actually make necessary change.

The first step in taking back control of our children’s development is to deliberate over the initial branding success of the technology companies and consider possible changes in our descriptions of this device.

There are two possible approaches that we could take to rebranding smartphones. One approach would be to consider the functions of the smartphone. Using this approach, we could begin to call it a personal mini computer. The second direction would be to consider branding it by describing the impact that the smartphone has on us and our children. I prefer the second path.

I would argue that an appropriate name for a smartphone in our community is the “Growth Inhibitor.”

This term, often used in the context of the science of plant life, aptly describes the impact most relevant to our children (and to be honest, ourselves) in their usage of these pocket devices. Our children’s growth is inhibited intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually by these devices.


The Smartphone as Intellectual Inhibitor

Studies in recent years have shown correlations between children who use technology devices such as iPads and iPhones frequently and childhood behavioral problems. Data shows that children using these devices often tend to struggle with hyperactivity, inattentiveness and behavioral challenges. Educators have been seeing these changes in their classrooms and comment frequently about the negative impact on the learning environment in schools as a result of these behavioral changes. They note that children today tend to have far shorter attention spans than they did before smartphones and excessive recreational technology. Additionally, educators who have been in the field for decades have noticed that children are reading far less than they used to, as they prefer instead to spend hours on their devices.

The pull toward constant device usage is not surprising. Our brains release a small amount of dopamine every time we check our phone, and dopamine is addictive. The same phenomenon occurs when our children use social media and video games. The addictive nature of smartphones explains why children prefer spending hours on their phone while avoiding homework, required chores or even pursuing enjoyable activities like playing outside with their friends. These radical changes in how children use their free time translate into far less time pursued on any forms of academic or intellectual pursuits.


The Smartphone as Emotional Inhibitor

Researchers began to notice abrupt changes in adolescent behaviors around the same time that smartphones became common. They observed a generation that has been shaped by smartphone and social media usage. While every generation has unique characteristics and behavioral changes, the changes that were seen in this case seemed to be unprecedented in their excess. We have already mentioned the behavioral challenges.

Even more troubling, teen depression and anxiety have skyrocketed in the last 15 or 20 years. The term FOMO (fear of missing out) describes one of the ramifications of social media, causing a host of emotions among our children ranging from jealousy to envy to depression. The amount of time that adolescents now spend with their friends dropped by 40% from 2000 to 2015. Our children are missing the healthy and normative in-person interactions that allow a child to grow socially and emotionally. Children who struggle with social interactions will often use their phones as an avoidance mechanism, allowing themselves to feel busy and occupied instead of interacting with others. While in the moment this makes them feel more comfortable, it impedes critical growth in their social skills.

Additionally, children who spend more time than average on their phones show higher levels of unhappiness. There are many other emerging trends that are impacting negatively on our children. By the age of 12 most children who have a smartphone have now been exposed to pornography, warping their views of healthy sexuality and learning horrible lessons about appropriate sexual norms. Additionally, many children (and adults) tend to be far nastier when interacting with others behind the distance of a screen than when interacting with others in person and use obscene language that they would never use in person. The tone and tenor of a conversation online are different than one in person. We lack the ability to interpret comments using body language and facial expressions, resulting in frequent misinterpretations of messages.


The Smartphone as Physical Inhibitor

The amount of sleep that children are getting since the proliferation of the smartphone among teens has dropped dramatically. Research shows that children who use their phones for a few hours a day get less sleep than children who do not use phones often. In addition, children who use their phones right before bedtime also get less sleep.

Heightened levels of anxiety also have negative impacts on one’s health, and as has been described above, smartphones have played a detrimental role in increasing anxiety among our children.

Finally, as also mentioned above, the amount of time that children are spending on their devices has also impacted on the amount of time they spend outside playing and exercising.


The Smartphone as Spiritual Inhibitor

The physical, emotional and intellectual challenges posed by the smartphone also impact negatively on our children’s spiritual growth. A healthy landscape for spiritual growth exists when children are healthy, happy and have strong social emotional skills. The extensive damage created by heavy smartphone usage has posed a real challenge to our attempts at cultivating spiritual growth in our children.

Judaism, in particular, is an intellectually rigorous religion. Children who, as described above, are developing tendencies that push them away from intellectual growth will be stunted in their Jewish spiritual growth as well, wasting their “girsa deyankuta” years in ways that they may not ever be able to make up later in life.

The smartphone phenomenon is one that parents, rabbis and educators have been struggling to address since smartphones were introduced to our world. We still have a long way to go, but a first step is to be honest and transparent about what these devices are and the impact that they have. Should our community consider grappling with this issue head on and calling these devices out for what they really are? Growth Inhibitors. And by the way, when do you think is the right age to give your child a device that will inhibit their physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth?

Rabbi Daniel Alter is the head of school at The Moriah School in Englewood.

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