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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

Phone Progression and Psychology – What Does it Mean for Your Future?

You hold the health of your brain and body in your hands: here is the truth about phones, and their deceptively dangerous potential.
Here is a real-life scenario of phone addiction within New York City’s subways, displaying how bewitching phones have become in our society.  (Photo Credit: Hugh Han / Unsplash)
Here is a real-life scenario of phone addiction within New York City’s subways, displaying how bewitching phones have become in our society. (Photo Credit: Hugh Han / Unsplash)

When I step out of the 4 train every day after school, my eyes never fail to see a sight that dumbfounds me – dozens of people, ranging from toddlers to the elderly, standing with their eyes glued to their phones. And as the subway slowly halts in front of the stop, an indescribable feeling of remorse fills my brain – what happened to spending quality time with family? What happened to reading fascinating books? What could have possibly happened to experiencing the wonders of reality, of nature and the beautiful earth that surrounds us? 

The first night that I had experienced this vision, I conducted a deep investigation online on technology and how life with our phones has become fully normalized. As I was browsing through the internet, a research paper caught my eye – …A new study suggests that the average person spends around 11 years on their phone… in their life.” I didn’t know how to respond – while I was aware that I spend time on my phone, never did I think it could amount to just that large of a duration throughout the course of my life. 

So, I took it upon myself to interview other people and inquire how they felt about their phones and if they had a similar mindset. First, I talked to Sasha White ’26, who describes her relationship with her phone as “more attached than she would prefer.”

Although she describes that she feels like she isn’t addicted to her phone, Sasha emphasizes, “I feel like our phones are so integrated into our lives, that we simply couldn’t live without them.” So, how can this be true? How are so many of us so attached to our phones, that we feel like we require them to function?

The Smartphone’s Rise to Fame 

First off, it’s important to understand phone development and how they came to be so necessary in our day-to-day lives. The flip phone first emerged in 1996, and became widespread as it was manufactured at a larger scale. Initially, these small, limited devices were only used for voice calls and text messaging, offering newfound convenience and connection. Nevertheless, at the time, they were truly revolutionary.

However, when smartphones came about in the late 2000s, the landscape of technology changed our world forever. Internet capabilities, social media platforms, and thousands of apps were all features that introduced a towering level of engagement and on-demand entertainment.

Here is the basic flip phone, displaying a small keyboard, a small screen, and a cumbersome keyboard; although it is small and portable, it proves to be very inefficient in usage. (Photo Credit: Donald Trung Quoc Don (Chữ Hán: 徵國單) – Wikimedia Commons – © CC BY-SA 4.0 International.(Want to use this image?), CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Natalie Igel, who owned a form of the original flip phone and has witnessed the gradual shift towards smartphones describes how, “there was no insane addiction to flip phones– you’d barely ever see a person glued to their small screen, texting someone while walking on a road full of cars like you would nowadays.”

As smartphones became even more sophisticated and ubiquitous, so did the attraction of constant connectivity. The addictive nature of these seemingly harmless devices became evident as people slowly began spending more time scrolling through social media feeds, playing video games, and consuming brain-numbing digital content. 

“Part of the reason this change escalated so quickly was because of competition between companies and easier payment options,” Igel remarks. “When smartphones first came out, they were rather expensive and hard for many people to purchase, especially immigrants who had just come to the country like my family.” However, with the introduction of monthly payments and lowered prices due to an increase in companies, a larger number of people gained access to this highly prized object, essentially causing the widespread adoption we see today.

So, why are we so hooked on these devices? As you may know, smartphone usage initiates an instant-gratification, dopamine-driven reward system. In other words, scrolling through Instagram reels or Tik-Tok provides the user with a fleeting sense of satisfaction or pleasure, which often drags them to continue doing so for long periods of time as they wish to experience this sensation even more. 

Coupled with the constant stream of notifications and alerts, this cycle of dopamine-dependence is difficult to break. To make it worse, the portability and convenience of these smartphones means that individuals can access their devices anytime and anywhere, blurring the boundaries between work, leisure, and personal time.

“The convenience that flip phones held compared to that of smartphones today is unparalleled – everything is easily accessible,” Igel recounts, which expresses her uncertainty regarding the drastic smartphone transformation. “There isn’t a tiny screen with tiny letters, there isn’t a perplexing keyboard that combines both letters and numbers, and there isn’t a plethora of other aspects of the primitive flip phone that were once marketed. Now, we have the internet, and everything is changed – it’s like carrying a computer in your pocket, that you can use at any moment – useful, but scarily compelling.”

Today, phone addiction has reached extraordinary levels, affecting individuals of all ages and backgrounds. From teenagers glued to their screens for hours on end to professionals unable to disconnect from work emails, the impact is profound. In 2024 alone, adults (18 years or older) in the United States spent an average of 508 minutes (eight hours and twenty eight minutes) each day with digital media. As social media and phones continue to develop, this number will correspondingly continue to skyrocket.

The Psychology of Phones

To start off, studies have linked excessive phone use to a range of negative outcomes, including decreased productivity, disrupted sleep patterns, anxiety, depression, and diminished interpersonal relationships. This relationship is associated with the dopamine-cycle discussed earlier – once people are unattached from their phone, they no longer have this rush of satisfaction that they are dependent on, and in a way, they experience a withdrawal effect. 

Contrary to what one may expect, phones have such a tremendous effect on the brain that it has been proved to literally change its structure and functioning. Length usage particularly harms the  hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory formation and spatial navigation. This is due to the many built-in apps on our phone that help with storing information, such as calendars and to-do lists; while they may be useful in the short-term, excessive reliance on this software may very well lead to reduced hippocampal activity and the development of short-term memory

Smartphones also have an eminent impact on attention and cognitive control, especially those that are managed by the prefrontal cortex. Constant notifications, alerts, and the allure of endless information at our fingertips can lead to a phenomenon known as “continuous partial attention.” This state of divided attention due to an overload of information at once not only diminishes our ability to concentrate on tasks, but also impairs our capacity to filter out irrelevant information. Over time, this can result in decreased cognitive control, affecting our decision-making processes and productivity. As a result, our problem-solving and critical thinking abilities can be severely hindered.

Here is an illustration of the different parts of the brain that are affected by phones, including the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus; all are regions that play a part in memory formation. (Image Credit: Bernstein0275, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Phones also release erratic microwave radiation, and although it is considered “weak,” it can disrupt DNA, weaken the brain’s protective barrier, and release dangerous radicals – highly reactive chemical compounds. This radiation is absorbed by the tissues of our body, including the brain. The absorption is significantly worsened when we hold our phones close to our heads for extended periods of time, such as during calls or in general holding the screen too close to your face. 

Finally, one of the most well-known side effects of phone usage on the brain is the blue light that is emitted by smartphone screens. This light can disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the human sleep-wake cycle, and the quality and duration of sleep. Research suggests that exposure to artificial light, distinctly before bedtime, can suppress melatonin secretion, which leads to difficulties falling asleep and decreased sleep efficiency. Chronic sleep deprivation, in turn, can have profound consequences on cognitive function, mood regulation, and overall well-being.

While this effect is not direct on the brain, excessive use of smartphones has been associated with decreased physical activity and a general sedentary lifestyle. This lack of movement contributes to health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes, which can ultimately lead to premature death. Similarly, compulsive use of smartphones can lead to a neglection of basic needs like sleep, proper nutrition, and personal safety, increasing health risks. 

Phones are so attention-grabbing that individuals often become so engrossed in their phones that they fail to notice imminent dangers, such as walking or driving into traffic, tripping on the sidewalk, and in general being unaware of surroundings. All of these impacts highlight the lethal consequences of phone addiction, and just how serious it is. 

Changes to Combat Phone Addiction

So, why should all these affects matter to you? Well, phones were only invented recently in 2007, meaning we do not know the exact effect they may pose on society in any number of years. Far too little research has truly been conducted for us to certainly say phones will have no side effects on us in the future or next generations. For this reason, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possible consequences phone overuse may pose to the brain and different aspects of one’s life. There are many strategies to combat phone addiction, but I’ll list some of the habits that have personally helped me. 

First off, turning off all unnecessary notifications on your phone is a useful step. When doing an assignment or working in general, if a notification pops up and turns on your phone screen, you are much more likely to click on it and start scrolling as a result of the initial notification. Preventing this from happening in the first place by turning off unimportant alerts can help stop long-duration scrolling and significantly lower smartphone usage. 

Second, enabling the black and white setting on your phone can help reduce phone addiction (click here for a tutorial on how to do so). A large reason why phones are so addicting is because of their vibrant and sharp colors, and by taking that away, one’s eyes won’t be attached as much. This is especially useful to avoid video games, as they generally use flashy lights and bright images to capture users. 

Owen Lin ’26, another sophomore at Bronx Science who has been implementing this method for various months, describes how useful this technique is to him. Originally, his screen time exceeded three to four hours daily, but this strategy has helped him maintain it under three hours consistently. “I didn’t expect it to be so effective,” he describes, “I genuinely don’t want to go on my phone as often, now that I’ve removed all of the color-related distractions.”

Another useful technique to avoid opening your phone too much in the first place is setting up a Do-Not-Disturb setting. This setting can be edited so that while on and doing work, you only receive notifications regarding messages or calls from particular people. This limits the information you are receiving to only what is absolutely necessary, such as close family members who need to reach you. 

In a poll that I conducted of 85 people (consisting of a variety of aged Bronx Science students), 86% stated that the Do Not Disturb mode is beneficial to them, and they consistently use it when they need to study or focus in general. This mode is especially practical for students, as it can be used whilst studying in order to avoid unwanted interruptions. 

Finally, removing all unnecessary apps helps reduce long phone screen times. More often than not, people tend to spend too much time on a variety of unnecessary apps such as video games and other useless programs. So, it can be helpful to delete as many of these apps as possible and leave the minimum amount of them required for pleasure, in order to not completely cut off fun associated with phones. 

Here is another example of how phone addiction plagues our society; instead of visually appreciating the original, gorgeous Mona Lisa at the Louvre, viewers can be seen only ‘admiring’ it with their phones, taking photos of the painting. (Photo Credit: Mika Baumeister / Unsplash)

As technology continues to advance and smartphones become even more integrated into daily life, addressing phone addiction will require a concerted effort from individuals, families, educators, and policymakers in order to promote healthier digital habits and foster a balanced relationship with technology. However, it is a shift in society that is necessary to happen in order to not only improve and shield our lives, but to save them as well.

As technology continues to advance and smartphones become even more integrated into daily life, addressing phone addiction will require a concerted effort from individuals, families, educators, and policymakers to promote healthier digital habits and foster a balanced relationship with technology. However, it is a shift in society that is necessary to happen in order to not only improve and shield our lives, but to save them as well.

About the Contributor
Liah Igel, Staff Reporter
Liah Igel is a News Editor for ‘The Science Survey’ and also the artist behind ‘The Survey Strip,' the newspaper's comic strip. To her, journalism is a form of expression by conveying emotions and experiences. It allows for different people’s stories to be communicated and heard by others, in order to bring light to important subjects or simply interesting topics. She views photographs as a method of visually expressing these emotions and experiences without requiring words. However, when paired together, she believes photographs and journalistic writing can truly describe an occurrence in a powerful fashion. Liah enjoys creating art and writing in her free time. Her favorite book is Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom and her favorite movie is Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan. In the future, Liah dreams to study both medicine and business while continuing to write for her school’s newspaper.