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Holten: Are cellphones making us more social or less?

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Do you have any idea how many Americans have cellphones? It is now 97 percent. That’s almost everyone and that’s amazing.

More amazing is the fact that over 34 percent of us are “mobile only” users, meaning we don’t have either a land line or another computer. Our cellphone is our computer.

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Even more amazing is that 29 percent of us seem to think that our cellphones are something we couldn’t possibly live without! In other words, we can live without our cat, dog, spouse, adult diapers and toothpaste but we couldn’t possibly live without our cellphone.

I’ve got to believe that there are a lot of homesteaders who are turning over in their graves with that one.

My grandfather lived in a tar paper shack for a whole winter in the early 1900s, talked to more coyotes than he did people, somehow survived and probably found the solitude to be lonely but mentally beneficial. After all, we all need time to sort through things and dust out the cobwebs.

Unfortunately, we don’t really have time for solitude anymore because technology is pushing it to the side like a blade does spring snow and the end result is sensory overload and stress. And what does sensory overload and stress lead to? It leads to distraction, disorientation, disillusionment, divorce, disaster and death.

Of course, before we reach the disaster level, there are many environmental elements that come into play that impact an individual, including urbanization, crowding, noise, mass media, technology and the explosive growth of information.

You see, the senses receive information from all kinds of little buddies: your vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell, proprioception or self-perception, balance, and your sense of spatial orientation.

Then your mid-brain and brain stem serve as early processing centers that, in this day and age, are often inundated with data or clogged up like the baggage claim at a busy airport, thanks in part to our continuous cellphone activity.

That’s bad because these brain regions are supposed to process the info that helps with coordination, attention, arousal and autonomic (or automatic) functions like breathing, and you don’t want to mess with basic functions like that.

Because, after sensory information passes through these centers, it is then routed to brain regions that are responsible for your emotions, memory, higher level cognitive functions and your mental well-being, and you don’t want to mess with your mental well-being.

At any rate, if you are a cellphone abuser and addict, you should know a few of these cellphone realities. For example:

-- If your boyfriend or girlfriend has no texts in their phone’s history, chances are you’re being cheated on.

-- Don’t feel too special when someone puts you in their address book because some people might only keep your number so that they know not to answer when you call.

-- We now live in a world where losing your phone is more dramatic than losing your virginity.

In addition, you know you are a cellphone addict if:

-- Your cellphone battery lasts longer than most of your relationships.

-- You thank your phone for not making you look like a loner in awkward situations.

-- And the only thing that gets your butt out of bed in the morning is when your cellphone says there is only 10 percent battery remaining.

But one of the greatest insults in life is when you hang out with someone and they spend the entire time texting others who are apparently more important rather than conversing with you.

It reminds me of a quote by director Steven Spielberg who once said, “Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cellphone.”

Holten is the manager of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. He writes aweekly column for The Dickinson Press. Email him at kholten@thedickinsonpress.com.

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