By Anna Matteo
30 April, 2018

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Nearly 2.4 billion people around the world used a smartphone in 2017. By the end of 2018, more than a third of the global population will be using a smartphone.

Those numbers -- from Mobile Marketing Magazine -- sound great, don't they? More people will have more information at their fingertips.

However, smartphone technology can be a double-edged sword.

In 2012, South Korea's government estimated that 2.55 million people are addicted to smartphones. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In 2012, South Korea's government estimated that 2.55 million people are addicted to smartphones. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

On the one hand, it sends us unlimited amounts of information. We don't have to wait. Our devices ring, ping, vibrate and light up with the latest news from family, friends and around the world.

On the other hand, this immediate access to information may become an addiction. And it may make some people feel lonely, anxious and depressed.

These findings are from a 2018 study from San Francisco State University and have been published in NeuroRegulation.

Erik Peper and Richard Harvey are both health education professors at the university. They led the study.

In a statement to the press, the two professors claim that "overuse of smart phones is just like any other type of substance abuse."

Peper explains that smartphone addiction forms connections in the brain that are similar to drug addiction. And these connections form slowly over time.

Also, addiction to social media may affect our emotional state.

The two professors asked 135 university students about their smartphone use and their feelings. They found that "students who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling...lonely, depressed and anxious."

Peper and Harvey do not blame users for their technology addiction. They blame the "tech industry's desire to increase corporate profits." As Peper writes, "More eyeballs, more clicks, more money."

The researchers warn that workers in the technology industry know how to manipulate our brains and turn us into addicts.

But the researchers also suggest ways to fight back.

They say that we can train our brains to be less addicted to our phones and computers.

Erik Peper suggests turning off push notifications and other such alerts on our phones. These instant announcements excite the same pathways in our brains that once warned us of dangers in our environment. But instead of warning us of a large predator looking for dinner, we are alerted to a sale on shoes or the fact that a friend from high school is eating a hamburger in Las Vegas.

More often than not, our devices share unimportant information as if our lives depended on it. Our brains see the notices the same way. And that is a problem. So, just turn them off.

The researchers also suggest taking control of when and where you answer a text or email. You do not need to answer them all. And you certainly don't need to answer them as soon as you get them.

They also suggest setting limits on the time you spend on social media. If you want to catch up with friends on Facebook, set aside a small amount of time to it. Schedule periods of the day to focus on important tasks and do not allow technology to interfere.

Two of Erik Peper's students share ways they have changed their use of technology.

One student, Khari McKendell, closed his social media accounts. He says he still calls and texts people. But he adds that he wants to spend most of his time with his friends in person, not online.

Another student, Sierra Hinkle, says she has stopped wearing headphones while she is out. She says this makes her more aware of her surroundings. And when she is with friends at a bar or restaurant, they all put their phones in the center of the table. The first one to touch a phone buys everyone a drink.

Hinkle says that she and her friends aim to use technology in ways that are useful, but that don't "take away from real-life experiences."

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

How you use technology. Do you feel your use of technology is healthy and balanced? Or do you feel it is becoming an addiction? Let us know, in the Comments Section,

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly edited it.

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Words in This Story

double-edged sword n. something that has both good and bad parts or results

ping n. computer term to send a usually brief message (such as a text message) or notification to a person's phone

vibrate n. to move back and forth or from side to side with very short, quick movements

access n. a way of being able to use or get something

addictionn. a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)

anxious adj. afraid or nervous especially about what may happen

neurological n. the scientific study of the nervous system and the diseases that affect it

alert v. to make (someone) aware of something

push notification n. computer term A push notification is a message that pops up on a mobile device. App publishers can send them at any time; users don't have to be in the app or using their devices to receive them.

clicks n. computer term the act of selecting something on a computer screen by pressing a button on a mouse or some other device

manipulate v. to deal with or control (someone or something) in a clever and usually unfair or selfish way

excite v. to increase the activity of (something, such as nerve tissue) : a chemical that excites [=stimulates] the nerve cells in the brain