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For my Computers course, my fellow students and I were asked to attempt the unthinkable; we were asked to try to take a breather from technology. When I read the instructions that asked us to start with an hour of technology-free time and see how long we could last, a few thoughts ran through my mind. No TV? No problem…at least not until 9:00 pm when Big Brother comes on. No radio? It’s fine, I like the sound of my own thoughts. No computer? Okay…a little trickier but I still have my iPhone. Wait…

No iPhone!?!?!? 

There is no worse fate!

I want to talk to you today about our attachment, as a society, to our electronic devices. I’m sure you’ve heard all about smartphone addictions and how dangerous to society technology is becoming. I’m sure some people even relish in the idea of taking a break from technology, from all the vibrating, the beeps, and the ringing.

I, however, do not.

Before I move on to tell you how this assignment went for me, I want to talk to you about iPhone addiction. Pull up a seat, make yourself comfy and let’s have a heart-to-heart.

iPhone Addiction

I’m about to throw out some numbers to you to illustrate the increasing enormity of the situation at hand: iPhone addiction. Now, the study I found talks exclusively about iPhones, but who can say that the data for other smartphones isn’t similar; I mean, have you seen Samsung’s new Galaxy SIII!? That device has to have some pretty serious addicts letting it sleep beside them in bed (you guys do that too, right?).

Okay, back to the study. Out of 200 participants:

  • only 6% claimed they were not at all addicted to their devices;
  • 85% use their iPhone as a watch, while 89% use it as an alarm clock;
  • 75% sleep with their iPhone next to them in bed;
  • 41% said that losing their iPhone would be a “tragedy”;
  • 32% of people who didn’t admit to feeling “completely addicted” worry that they are on their way to becoming addicted.
Basically, to most iPhone users, the device is like an extension of their bodies, and I am no exception.


Modern Day Phobias

I heard about something this week called nomophobia (no-mobile-phone phobia), which in simple terms means the fear of being out of contact with your mobile phone. You know, I’ve always prided myself on having a short list of phobias, and by short list, I really mean only one: arachnophobia (c’mon, they have 8 legs for crying out loud). Now I know I have to admit to being a nomophobe as well. I am willing to bet some of you are too.

Here are some warning signs:

  • The inability to turn your phone off…ever
  • Obsessively checking for missed calls, emails and/or texts
  • Constantly recharging your battery
  • The inability to go into the bathroom without your phone

Uhhh…check, check, check aaaaaaaaaaaaand check!

…just kidding about the bathroom one by the way (no I’m not).

And…Back To The Assignment

So I decided, for no particular reason, to attempt to take a break from technology this past Thursday. On Wednesday night, I gave myself the ol’ pep talk, telling myself I was strong and could handle a break. For the assignment, we were advised to take notes, which I will provide below for you. A feelings journal, if you will.

Always need my fix…

Wednesday 1100pm: Doing final checks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for the night. I warned my boyfriend that communication might be scarce if I succeed at this crazy feat. Already feeling anxious…expectations are low.

Thursday 0900: Woke up, automatically pressed the Home button on iPhone to check the time. FAIL! I really want to relax in bed and check Facebook and read the news on my phone. I’m feeling a tad put out by this ridiculous idea. Time to move away from the iPhone and look for some coffee…

Thursday 1000: I kept busy for the past hour by reading Game of Thrones: A Clash of Kings (a series you must read!) and getting ready for the day. I survived another hour, but I don’t want to stay away anymore.

Thursday 1130: My willpower is faltering. OH I have a text! I want to answer it…screw it, I give up.

Seriously, that’s it. All I could handle away from my iPhone today was 2.5 hours, unless you count the time I was asleep (I wouldn’t either). And guess what – I’m not ashamed.

I Have a Relationship With My iPhone

Some people call what I (and other nomophobes) feel towards my iPhone an addiction. I disagree, and I’m not alone. A study was done to see if the feelings we experience when separated from our iPhones are similar to a junkie separated from drugs, or if it’s something more. In this study, when the 16 participants heard or saw a ringing or vibrating iPhone, a part of the brain called the insular cortex was activated. This insular cortex is the same part of the brain that responds to the presence or proximity of a loved one.


Sooooooooooooo dear friends, what this study is saying is that the subjects tested did not react the way an addict would react; instead, they reacted with love.

I can’t help myself

Still though, that doesn’t seem healthy.

Okay, I see where you’re coming from, but hold up for a minute. Of course there are going to be negative aspects to a growing dependency on an electronic device. You know what I’m talking about, the obvious things we hear about like people not socializing or communicating anymore, or students getting poor grades in school, or texting and driving. I too have to work on not holding my iPhone when out for dinner with my boyfriend. There are positive aspects too though.

So an iPhone “Addiction” Isn’t All Bad?

Stanford University Professor Tanya Luhrmann doesn’t agree that iPhone dependency is entirely negative; in fact, some people are more productive when they have access to an iPhone. I would agree; just some of the features I rely on my iPhone for on a daily basis include (but are not limited to):

  • Communication
  • Calendar
  • Camera/photo editing
  • GPS
  • Weather
  • Alarm clock
  • Clock
  • To-do List
  • Online banking
  • Email
  • News

I think what it really all boils down to is a little thing called moderation. Just like you can’t eat pizza all day every day (I’m not preaching, I’m just saying what I’ve heard), it’s also (apparently) unhealthy to spend all your time on your phone. And sure, we should all spend more time socializing face-to-face rather than through FaceTime, just like we should be outside running through flowery meadows rather than playing Temple Run (so fun by the way). Just knowing that I have an amazing multi-purpose device in my pocket though makes me more likely to go outside and do things, because my iPhone opens doors for me that I may not have had access to otherwise.

In fact, that study that we talked about earlier, the one that revealed some pretty scary things about iPhone users had some slightly more positive numbers too:

  • 70% of iPhone users felt more organized;
  • 54% of iPhone users felt more productive;
  • 74% of iPhone users just felt “cool” (hey, I’m not here to discuss self-esteem issues).

And no, Apple is not paying me to say these things.

A Final Thought on the Assignment

Okay, so attempting this assignment on a weekday probably wasn’t my smartest move. I have a busy weekend ahead, so I’m willing to bet that it will be much easier to be away from technology then. I could certainly try this dangerous feat again then to see if I can handle it, but to be honest I just don’t want to.

Besides, why fix what ain’t broke?

Can you picture your grandparents on Reddit? How about World of Warcraft? Yeah, me neither. The most extreme technology my Babcia and Dziadzia had was a television. Unless you think a radio trumps a television (but why would you), in which case, they had one of those too. Tech-savvy or what?

Approximately 53% of older adults (over the age of 65 years) have joined us younger folk in Googling, surfing the ‘net, and stalking people they went to high school with on Facebook. This number has increased over the years, which may or may not surprise you. Our generation (I’m assuming we’re the same age, play along here) has grown up with the Internet, and as such, we are the people that the general public would picture being online. It’s great that seniors are joining in the digital revolution; after all, why should we be the only ones reaping the benefits of the Internet?

You probably think I’m crazy at this point, but I’m not suggesting that your grandparents should know the answer to “when does the narwhal bacon”? All I’m saying is that seniors should take advantage of our constantly evolving digital world. Hear me out.


Middle-aged and older adults may benefit from using the Internet by increasing the health of their brains. Notice I didn’t mention young adults? Interestingly, there are studies that say that young adults have more trouble focusing on longer pieces of writing due to the Internet. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows blames the amount of time we spend looking at our computer and smartphone screens for the fact that we can no longer sustain concentration.

For seniors though, the benefits are extraordinary.

Internet use is good for the brain

Surfing the web can help to counteract the physical changes that occur in the brain during the aging process. Searching on the Internet helps to stimulate areas of the brain involved in decision-making and reasoning. This makes sense, doesn’t it, when we already know that stimulating activities like crossword puzzles and Sudoku help to minimize the impacts of aging. Taking part in daily brain-stimulating activities can reduce the risk of dementia, because as the saying goes, we need to use it or lose it.

Improved Quality of Life

Many older adults live in retirement or nursing homes, unable to access transportation or live independently. As someone who works in a retirement home, I have seen lonely seniors frequently. By owning a computer and obtaining access to the Internet, older adults could dramatically increase their quality of life.

Through programs such as Skype and web cameras, seniors could communicate in a personal way with their friends and family. Other forms of communication could include online messaging services, social media, and e-mail. Family photos have never been easier to share with sites like Flickr, Zooomr and Photobucket.

It is a known fact that one of the side effects of aging can be hearing loss. Anyone who has tried to communicate with a person who is hard-of-hearing can attest to the frustration that can occur when the person who you are talking to can’t hear you. I am quite sure that not being able to hear doesn’t make things very easy on the people who are hard-of-hearing either. Communicating online through e-mail or messaging services is a really great option for conversing in this situation. Thinking back to when my grandparents were alive, the idea of using the Internet seems like it could have been a great option since they lived so far away.

Older adults could spend time playing games online, either by themselves or with other people. A hobby like online gaming, while proving addicting for young adults, can be mentally stimulating for seniors. Seniors could also use the Internet to search for information to supplement their hobbies, such as knitting patterns or new card games.

With websites like eBay, Etsy and Amazon (among others), seniors can do a great deal of their shopping online if they find it tedious or difficult to travel. Almost anything can be purchased securely online these days, even groceries! Sometimes items can be more affordable online as well, and for people living on a pension or disability allowance, saving money can be very important.


The residents at the retirement home I work at obtain their daily news from the local newspapers and television news stations, but if they want news from other newspapers, the Internet can do just that. Most newspapers are available online now, and are updated throughout the day. Online newspapers are user-friendly and easy to read and navigate.

Another important use for the Internet for seniors is access to health information. Understandably, older adults tend to be concerned about health problems as they age, and many questions can be answered via the Internet. For example, Health Canada has a website devoted to seniors health information. From nutrition to medication information, the web can be very informative.

What Issues Do Seniors Face? 

 So why don’t more seniors use computers? Good question!

Some of the obstacles holding seniors back from joining the rest of the world online include:

  • the fact that learning new technology can be daunting;
  • poor eyesight;
  • the dangers we hear about related to identity fraud, and;
  • the fear of error-messages which make computers appear less user-friendly.

Innovative Options for Seniors

At the retirement home I work at, there are a handful of residents who own computers with Internet access, and from what I’ve seen, they are all regular computers, like you and I might own. For many seniors, normal computers seem to be just fine once they learn how to use the computers.

Easy-to-use Computers

There are companies who specialize in providing specialized computers to seniors who need something a little more user friendly. For example, Telikin calls itself the “world’s easiest computer”. Telikin provides a large, touchscreen device that includes a keyboard with larger print. These computers are actually pretty modern looking and to be honest, I wouldn’t be ashamed of using one!

Specialized Software

Many older adults find it more convenient to just purchase (or be given) a regular computer, like you or I might own. For those people, there are companies like PointerWare and Eldy. These programs appear to be easy to install and use, and just provide a simpler interface for seniors.


For older adults who don’t really want to go the previously mentioned routes, there are always helpful websites to help provide information and computer skills, generally free of charge.

So How Do I Get Grandma Online?

Here are some easy steps to make computers more accessible for the older adults you know and love:

  1. Reduce the screen resolution to increase the size of text (and everything else). For those with 20/20 (or decent) vision, this looks unattractive but can really make reading easier for vision-impaired people.
  2. Increase the contrast to enhance readability.
  3. Increase the size of font and icons.
  4. Customize the start menu to display large icons and navigate to frequently used programs.
  5. Increase the magnification level.
  6. Enable StickyKeys, FilterKeys and ToggleKeys
  7. Customize the scrolling and clicking speed on the mouse.

At this point, I hope you understand the benefits of getting your grandparents online as soon as possible! For our generation going forward, I think it’ll be harder to get off the computer personally, but that’s for another generation to worry about. Now go get grandma online!

Studies show that social media is harder for people to resist than smoking or drinking alcohol.  In fact, 79% of people in Canada do not leave their homes without their smartphones. I am not too proud to admit that I am within that 79% of people. In fact, when I even think I might have left my iPhone at home, I feel anxious and stressed, much like a person going through nicotine withdrawal.

With so many people using smartphones so much of the time, it’s a wonder we get anything done, much less things that make a difference for the good of the world. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, since we’re becoming friends now and all: my dream would be to quit school and save the sharks with United Conservationists, or join Greenpeace and save the planet. Sadly, my dreams are a tad unrealistic at this point in my life. I bet you’re wondering where I’m going with this, huh?

What’s This All About Then?

Okay, so we have all these people who admit to a) owning a smartphone and b) having an addiction to using their smartphones, so how can we put a positive spin on this epidemic?  Two simple words, my friends: online activism.

Let’s be honest for a minute here. When you’re sitting in the lecture hall waiting for your professor to start lecturing, or you’re waiting for your friends to show up, or you’re sitting on the bus trying to avoid your overly friendly seat-mate with the bad breath, what are you to do other than pull out your smartphone?

Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon and Click Your Support!

If you’re anything like me, you probably like to check in on Facebook or Twitter on your smartphone. If you’re really like me, you do this several times throughout the day, whether you have something better (read: more important) to do or not. Why not do some good while you’re at it? Social media is opening the doors for us to make a difference and empowering us to start a conversation with other people about things that matter. 


There are so many ways to use Twitter for good, it’s not even funny. And I should know; I follow some pretty funny people on Twitter. I also follow organizations and celebrities that use Twitter to spread awareness and pass around online petitions.  Getting involved has never been so easy!  In a matter of minutes you can tweet not only about the most recent episode of Game of Thrones (you need to leave right now and go watch that show if you haven’t before, by the way), but you can also retweet information to spread awareness. You can easily pass along messages to your friends by retweeting, and then connect to other “Twitterers” or “tweeps” by using hash tags. If you feel really motivated to make a change, you can even tweet your government representatives. You know, just be tactful and professional while doing so.


Over 500 million people use Facebook, half of whom log on daily.  We don’t have to only use Facebook for updating our relationship statuses or photo-stalking people we went to high school with, there are lots of ways to do good. Some ways to use Facebook for good include adding Causes to your profile and joining like-minded Groups

Personally, my favourite things to bombard people with (other than photos of my cat) are  statuses that help to spread awareness that include news articles, petitions, and links to more information to help my favourite causes.  Another great use for Facebook is the Events function, which is good for more than just throwing stag and doe parties. For example, United Conservationists throw fundraisers occasionally for the Fin Free campaign, and will often set up Facebook Events to invite people from all over.

I think we all remember the week that the Kony 2012 video went viral. In a very short period of time, people all over Facebook were sharing the video, telling their friends and pledging to spread awareness further. On Twitter, feeds were overrun with Kony 2012 hash tags. Now, I will not spend a great deal of time ranting about this cause since I felt a little cynical about all these sudden overnight activists, but I must admit that there were good things that came out of the video going viral. Some people decided to do their research to find out more about the charity involved, as well as the issue at stake, and really, arguably the most important factor, awareness, was spread. Whether you’re a critic or a fan of the cause, you have to admit that without social media, far less people would have access to the kind of information we now have access to.

I’ve only covered two social networking sites in particular, but there are many other options for people to use social media for good.

Speaking of Awareness…

The best way to do good is to be educated on what’s going on around the world. Only by educating yourself can you spread awareness. News technology has dramatically evolved over the years; we used to get most of our information from newspapers and TV.  And by “we” I don’t mean “me”; I never read newspapers in my youth (never-you-mind how old I am, thank you very much), unless you count the comics.

Nowadays, I get most of my information from online news sources or through my smartphone’s news apps. I know I’m not alone in this either; people just prefer the ease and convenience that the internet provides. I also follow different news channels on Twitter, so if there is breaking news, I can read about it right away. Maybe if technology was this advanced when I was younger, I would have been more involved and interested in what was going on in the world around me. The novelties of gaining information online are endless, and youth today can be more educated in a variety of causes as they (we) never were before.

What if You Have Money To Burn?

Okay, I can’t speak from experience here, I’m just a starving student, but if you have money to burn and you’re not satisfied with bugging people to sign petitions, there’s always the option to text-to-donate. I remember when Haiti was hit by that massive earthquake in 2010; text-to-donate was a very popular option. You get the satisfaction of giving to a good cause from the convenience of your phone! Heck, you could donate from the comfort of your couch.

So How Does Online Political Activism Even Work?

A lot of people don’t think signing petitions and spreading awareness online is beneficial, but it’s really all about the numbers.  It all starts with an organization coming together and starting a website, whether it be about abortion laws, war, or even shark-fin bans to spread information. In fact, you don’t even need to be part of an organization to spread awareness anymore, that’s the benefit of social media. Just one person can make a difference, giving people access to information from all over the world. People who get information can start to take action. When members of the government start receiving emails, letters, and even tweets from people, they will start to take notice.

Not only is online activism more accessible for people, but it’s more cost-effective.  Like I said, I would love to be an activist full-time, but it’s just not in the cards right now. I simply don’t have the time to gather people to form protest groups, nor do I have the money. What I do have time for is a quick status update or tweet, or online petition to sign. An email to the government takes a mere five minutes, and as we know, “even the smallest person can change the course of the future” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings).

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