Our Smart phones demand our eyes to narrowly focus for extended periods of time on a teeny tiny rectangular hand-held object. The time on task we spend devoted to a technological instrument is unprecedented in human evolution.
Lateral peripheral vision helped our early ancestors scan the savannah for danger. Being able to sense what was around us and coming towards us helped us to survive. When our ancestors were outdoors, they were wired to look as far and as wide as the eye can see: to stretch the vision’s limit-potential.
Today, when we spend time outdoors, we find ourselves transfixed to our Smart phones. This ubiquitous reliance of technology will impact the depths of our attention.
There has been much written about the potential physical ailments that are predicted with extended Smart phone use: carpal tunnel syndrome of the hands, neck strain from how phones can keep our necks locked in position and an increase in patients reporting nearsightedness to their physicians.
We can add the tendency to miss stimuli in our peripheral vision to this growing list of costs on the costs-benefits Smart phone ledger.
Recently, to my astonishment, I saw a charter bus driver turning a busy street corner while glancing down at the phone on his lap. Routinely, as a pedestrian waiting at the stop light on K street, I can count more cars than not, with drivers looking straight ahead than I can with their visions looking down, presumably at their phones.
I wonder what the costs are of not using our peripheral vision for hours in a day– a trait that has evolved over millennium to help us survive? Perhaps our compromised awareness of danger will have fatal consequences in the forms of on-coming motor vehicles, attackers intent to do us harm that we don’t sense or natural occurrences that we don’t see with peripheral vision like falling tree branches or ledge drops.
Will agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces be diagnosed more as we grow more engrossed with our phone screens and less aware of open spaces? Are we ripening ourselves up for alien abduction because we are so distracted from what is going on around us?
The modern world has not experienced a technological upsurge like the advent of Smart phones and with such a widespread unilateral embrace. Never before have we carried a technological instrument with us at all times. What is on our Smart phones becomes increasingly interesting day by day. The time away from being transfixed on our tiny screens seems increasingly boring and mundane.
When I was growing up, we were told to look both ways before crossing the street. Now it seems important to remind both child crossing the street and driver driving to keep their eyes ahead and off their Smart phones.
Smartphone image available from Shutterstock