If you walk into a busy subway car or city street, you'll notice that most people's gaze is fixed on their smartphone screen.
While smartphones are handy for quickly finding out about the weather or other useful facts, researchers say they continuously distract us and are harming our ability to concentrate.
In particular, smartphone use is distracting students during lectures and lowering their grades, and awareness of this trend has even prompted some lecturers to declare their lectures device-free.
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Smartphone use is distracting students during lectures and lowering their grades, and this trend has even prompted some lecturers to say that their lectures are device-free
A separate study by researchers at the Sungkyunkwan University and City University of Hong Kong found that smartphone separation anxiety, known as nomophobia, is only getting worse as our digital assistants being increasingly personalized.
Symptoms of nomophobia include being unable to turn off your phone, obsessively checking your phone, constantly topping up the battery and taking your phone to the bathroom.
The problem is not about being unable to make calls but rooted in the fact smartphones are now where we store digital memories, a new study has found.
Scientists found those with high nomophobia were more likely to suffer wrist and neck pain.
They were also more likely to get distracted from their studies and work - showing that not only does problematic use of smartphones induce negative effects on users' physical conditions but also on the overall quality of their everyday life.
Researchers warned that this trend is likely to continue as phones become increasingly personalized and carry out more and more functions.
Researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa say that today, people spend over three hours on their phones every day.
'While ever-smarter digital devices have made many aspects of our lives easier and more efficient, a growing body of evidence suggests that, by continuously distracting us, they are harming our ability to concentrate,' say researchers Dr Daniel le Roux and Douglas Parry from the Cognition and Technology Research Group in the Department of Information Science at Stellenbosch University.
Le Roux, who leads the research, and Parry, a PhD candidate, focus on the impact of digital media, particularly phones, on students' ability to concentrate in the classroom.
According to them, today's students are 'digital natives' - people born after 1980 - who have grown up surrounded by digital media and have quickly adapted to this environment to the point that 'they are constantly media-multitasking, that is, concurrently engaging with, and rapidly switching between, multiple media to stay connected, always updated and always stimulated.'
As such, the researchers say it shouldn't be surprising that university lecturers are encouraged to develop blended learning strategies that incorporate videos, podcasts, Facebook pages and other digital media into the classroom.
The researchers warn, however, than an important byproduct of these initiative has been to establish media use during lectures as the norm.
'Studies by ourselves and researchers across the world show that students constantly use their phones when they are in class,' the researchers say.
'But here's the kicker: if you think they are following the lecture slides or engaging in debates about the topic you are mistaken,' they say.
According to the researchers, this is hardly ever true and when students use their phones during lectures, they do so to send messages to their friends, browse social media and watch YouTube videos, or just browse the internet in general.
The researchers say there are two main reasons for why this behavior is problematic from the cognitive control and learning perspective.
Firstly, when we multitask, our performance on the principal task suffers, and making sense of lecture's is difficult when one's attention switches to their phone regularly.
'A strong body of evidence supports this, showing that media use during lectures is associated with lower academic performance,' the researchers say.
The second reason is that it harms students' ability to concentrate on something specific for an extended period of time, as they become used to switching between different stimuli and shorter and shorter timer intervals.
'The moment the lecture fails to engage or becomes difficult to follow, the phones come out,' say the researchers.
As awareness of this trend increases, some university lecturers, even at leading tech-oriented universities such as MIT, have banned electronic devices from their lectures to encourage engagement, attentiveness and critical thinking skills.
'No one can deny that mobile computing devices make our lives easier and more fun in a myriad of ways,' say Dr Le Roux and Parry.
'But, in the face of all the connectedness and entertainment they offer, we should be mindful of the costs.'
Given their findings, the researchers encourage educational policy makers and lecturers to consider the implications of their decisions with a deeper awareness of the dynamics between technology use and the cognitive functions which allow us to learn.
Researchers Mr Douglas Parry and Dr Daniel le Roux from the Cognition and Technology Research Group in the Department of Information Science at Stellenbosch University. They found that smartphone use is distracting students during lectures and lowering their grades