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Smartphone debate: Making life easier or dumbing you down?

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – If you can believe it, smartphones have only been in existence for 10 years and yet it has revolutionized our world, for better or worse.

Many researchers are actually worried about the future, because they say smartphones are making us more dumb.

In this interconnected, information-obsessed culture, many of us depend on our smartphones, especially millennials.

“It’s my life, to be honest. I can’t go a day without it,” said Hillsborough Community College student Mauro Oms.

“I think it stems from like caring about what people think about you and just wanting to have friends,” said HCC student Emily Ryan.

But researchers, like University of South Florida psychology professor Dr. Paul Atchley, say smartphones could be doing more harm than good.

“If something is tapping your attention and therefore tapping your willpower, in a sense you could say, it is making you a bit dumber,” said Atchley.

He says smartphone apps are designed to condition your mind so you respond to those bells and notifications. Once you’ve grown accustomed to responding to these messages, you lose the willpower to make smart choices. For example, this is why people text and drive.

“Because we’re distracted, we end up doing it, even though we know better,” explained Atchley.

Numerous studies have shown smartphones are shortening our attention spans, stifling creativity and hurting our ability to retain information.

Atchley says it causes you to not appreciate the world around you. He recalls a time he was at an art museum in New York when he saw a man talking on a smartphone and not paying attention.

“He leaned up against the wall while he was taking the call and unfortunately he wasn’t leaning against the wall, he was leaning against a Jackson Pollock painting because he wasn’t paying attention to the world that’s around him,” Atchley recalled.

Students are also forgetting how to spell.

“In my English classes, they’ll have to get onto us about using text lingo in our essays and stuff,” explained Ryan. “The big one is ‘tho’ like T-H-O instead of ‘though’ – T-H-O-U-G-H.”

But we’re also losing simple skills that were commonplace just decades ago, like remembering phone numbers, birthdays or even reading maps.

“I don’t even know which way to hold it,” said Ryan while holding a map.

These students think scientists are giving smartphones a bad rap.

“Honestly, it helps me a lot with school, I do like my power-points on it, too, and everything,” said Oms.

“When they just get to a point where they’re so dumb, they don’t know that two plus two equals four. If it’s like, I gotta go to Siri to know how to think, then that’s when I think the problem comes into play,” said HCC student Montarious Starks.

Atchley says there are benefits to unplugging.

“When you’re not connected by these devices and your brain is not being constantly distracted, your ability to be creative goes up, you come up with better solutions to problems, you’re more empathetic to other folks,” said Atchley.

Ultimately, it’s all about finding a healthy balance.

“I really want to emphasize turn off your notifications. If you have a problem, seriously turn off your notifications,” said Starks.

“Use it wisely and realize there’s more to life than your cell phone,” said Ryan.

One big thing smartphones are doing is hurting interpersonal communication. The students told me they constantly see people fail to recognize non-verbal cues. We’re so used to putting up a persona on our Instagram accounts, and communicating by texts, that we’re losing our ability to have meaningful conversations in real life.

Experts say its important to have a healthy relationship with technology. So set boundaries on the amount of time you spend on your smartphone. Also, keep it away during dinner and turn it off before bed.

Officials say its important to make efforts to regularly take breaks from your phone. Instead, do something more worthwhile like go outside, work out, or learn a hobby.