We Literally Can't Live Without Our iPhones - InformationWeek

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1/13/2015
11:50 AM
David Wagner
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We Literally Canít Live Without Our iPhones

We have uploaded part of our minds and selves into our phones.

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Not having your phone makes you stupid and unhappy, and it might kill you.

Don't believe me? Try to go into your next meeting without your phone. University of Missouri researchers bet you'll be nervous, less happy, and perform worse cognitively. In fact, you will probably have a deflated sense of self. Your heart rate may go up and your blood pressure will rise. Take the phone back and not only will you perform better, but your blood pressure will be lower than when you gave up the phone. Just like a toddler getting his blankie back.

Yes, we have separation anxiety from our phones. Not only that, but if we're separated from our phones and then reunited with them, we feel better -- like being reunited with a lover back from a business trip. Or like when you go a week without ice cream.

Telling participants they were testing a new wireless blood pressure cuff, researchers asked them to sit quietly and do a simple word search puzzle. Researchers then asked them to report their state of happiness and comfort. Part of the way through the puzzle, the participants were told their phones were interfering with the test, and they were asked to move the phones farther away and take a new test. They again reported their comfort levels and had their blood pressures taken. To top it all off, during the test participants' phones were called -- but participants couldn't answer them.

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Most participants' ability to perform a simple cognitive test dropped, and they reported feeling much less happy. Their blood pressure increased by an average of 6 points (systolic) and 4 points (diastolic). When the phone rang, their systolic blood pressure rose a full 10 points. Once the phones were returned, the average systolic blood pressure was 5 points lower than when the test began.

Granted, I see one major flaw in the test. If you put me in front of an old rotary phone and made it ring, I'd feel stressed by not being able to answer it. Even if the caller is trying to get me to steam clean my rugs, I don't want to miss that call, darn it. But even without the ringing, there was clearly stress involved in phone separation.

Are we really that dependent on our phones? Are they basically pacifiers grown-ups suck on? I say yes. Just look at people on an airplane: Before takeoff, everyone is on their phones getting the last call, tweet (#daplane), or status update (checking in at Gate 23 -- feeling lucky) before they switch to airplane mode. And these days every modern plane has a charger in every seat to prevent boozed-up phone addicts from rushing the flight attendant for more single-serve vodka bottles because they blew through their batteries playing Candy Crush.

And what happens when you land? The second the wheels touch down, everyone whips their phones out to use the 3% battery they saved in order to call people to pick them up. We can't even be bothered to park and meet someone when that person's plane is scheduled anymore.

Am I bothered by the addiction? Not really. A pacifier for a baby is only a problem because it gets in the way of talking on the phone.

Clearly, the only reason this is a problem is that we've uploaded part of our lives into the phone. We're using it as cloud storage for our pictures and our personalities. No problem, as long as we can afford the data plans.

But if you do happen to be separated from your phone, is it a problem? Yes, at least temporarily. I'd like to see studies that show how quickly we bounce back. Does the stress lasts for only an hour -- or for days or weeks? Can you train your brain to give up the phone again?

In the meantime, the researchers suggest that if you're taking a big test or going into an important meeting, make sure your phone is nearby. If you feel like you're without it, you might perform worse. Keep it in your pocket so you aren't stressed and stupid at your big moment.

I suggest that people with blood pressure problems really keep an eye on their phones. I wouldn't want you to have a heart attack because you left your phone at Starbucks.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as phone separation anxiety? Do you experience it? Are you smarter just having your phone in your pocket instead of across the room? Put down your phone just long enough to comment on this. Better yet, comment using your phone. We like the smartest comments we can get.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/16/2015 | 5:14:33 PM
Re: Do they allow phones near you during standardized testing?
@kstaron- My wife is a college professor. She does not confiscate phones nor do her colleagues. I can't say if she is in a minority or not. 

the good news is that having the phone in your pocket seems just as successful as having it on the tab;le next to you.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/13/2015 | 5:05:02 PM
Re: Phones and Meeting Etiquette
@PedroGonzales- I'd be the first to admit the study does have flaws. I'm guessing the second people to admit it would be the authors. i'm sure they are planning broader studies as we speak.

That said, I feel like it fits the way I perceived the world. Not everyone, but many people. I'd love to see a study that measures time on the phone per day and compares it to blood pressure gains. I'd also like to see one that measures what you use the phone for. If you use more social networking are you more likely to hate losing your phone because it is your personality you are losing? Or are you more worried about the value of the phone or your job calling? Way more to check out, but I think it is fair to say this is a good start.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/13/2015 | 4:54:12 PM
Re: Tool
@kelly22- The interesting thing about the wipe approach is that as we put more and more on it, the less viable that becomes. Sure we have cloud storage and backup. But there's always something we miss. I'd hate to wipe it, realize i forgot the picture of me with Beyonce I hadn't backed up yet, and then find it an hour later.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/13/2015 | 4:51:55 PM
Re: Tool
@jagibbons- A stunningly lucid and frightening thought. You are totally right. At this point if I reached into my pockets and found my wallet missing, I'd have a minor heart attack. If I found my keys missing, I'd have a tiny stroke. If I found my phone missing I'd go into a tizzy. If they're all one thing I'd have a tizzy, go into a stroke and then die of a heart attack. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/13/2015 | 4:49:46 PM
Re: Tool
@danielcawry- You bring up an interesting point. I think most of us would assume we don't have this problem. I wonder exactly how you find out if you do. I wouldn't think a self-adminstered blood pressure test would have the same affect. I guess we all just need to be a little more aware of our feelings.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/13/2015 | 4:42:07 PM
Re: Phones and Meeting Etiquette
@Technocrati- You're right. The constant phone checking is a meeting problem. If you need to be somewhere else be there. But don't mess with everyone else's time. I suspect phones don't make us smarter but help us not be distracted with "where's my phone." But still, we upload enough of ourselves in there that maybe we need actual information from it. I don't know. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/13/2015 | 4:38:43 PM
Re: Managing Cell Phone Stress
@technocrati- You're right. I think we all do the same thing. The phone is either on my desk next to me or where I charge it at night which isn't that far from me. Just like I usually leave my wallet and keys in the same place every night. If you build it into you rhabits I guess it only makes sense when your habits get broken that you'd panic a bit.

Also, they're not cheap. I wonder if they just did a test and asked us to put a couple hundred dollars of our own money on a desk across the room how we'd react. :)
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
1/13/2015 | 3:20:04 PM
Re: Tool
I agree with this - the more my phone can do, the more I become attached to it. Personally, I think this will become more of an issue for people as smartphones gain more capabilities and contain more sensitive information. If I think I've left my phone somewhere, I'd rather wipe it clean than risk it falling into the wrong hands.
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