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Smartphones; The Tricky Miracle

I f one had to name a single inanimate object that best defines modern human existence and how it has been transformed, it would have to be the smartphone. It is a ubiquitous companion and the possession that remains closest to us twenty-four seven. It occupies our minds while we’re moving about or when we’re sitting, it lies on our desk as we work and gives us company whether we’re in a crowd or completely alone. It fills our days and keeps us up at night, hungry to absorb new information. The smartphone has changed the way we think and feel. It is often lamented that smartphone users no longer feel a need felt to engage in conversation with the person next to them, try to make new friends or even so much as enjoy being present somewhere, so absorbed they are in staring at the screens of their mobile devices. The smart phone is not just another way to call our friends and loved ones, the call function is now just one of hundreds of functions our phones can perform. In fact, the telephone application may be the least used (compared to surfing the internet or, in Myanmar, playing video clips and video-games). It keeps us connected, combining the functionality of a calculator, notebook and diary. The list of possible uses is almost endless but the outside matters, too. Phones are considered hot fashion accessories among the more vacuous owners.

Computers, like all other machines, come with certain risks .

Smartphones are an extremely useful device for working people and keep everyone connected across spaces. They facilitate work and improve efficiency through timely action possible since everyone remains accessible. The benefits are so many that no one has ever thought of the flip side, the potentially harmful effects and the prospect of being addicted to a non-consumable product.

As we pass the ten year mark since the introduction of widely available advanced smartphones talk is beginning to stir of the potential for smartphone addition. We seldom find a person who is able to stay away from their device for even a 10 minutes stretch. A recent study found that young people, on average, check their smartphones eighty times a day – such is the cost of streamlining our personal and professional lives into a single pocket machine.

What is more alarming however, is the potential health hazards posed by our phones. Smartphones are now more emotionally important to us – they are the windows through which we see the world, and we trust in our phones. As recently as November, 2016, a young lady in Sydney dozed off on her charging Galaxy 7 and woke up to a seriously burnt and blistered arm. Most smartphones are programmed to switch off when they overheat and the instruction manual for the iPhone states that prolonged exposure to a charging device should be avoided – a good reason, perhaps, to read the small print. Other reported incidents include a man in Kentucky suffering lung damage due to smoke filling up his room due to a burning phone that was on charge, a young teenaged girl suffering a burn on her thumb because her phone became extremely hot under her touch and a lady in Taiwan who found smoke coming out of the pocket in which her phone had been placed.

What causes phones to burn?

All phones are powered by rechargeable batteries. From heavy, bulky batteries that were once detachable, research has now yielded sleek, lightweight and small lithium ion batteries which power most laptops, mobile phones and scores of other portable gadgets. Batteries contain chemicals that recharge when heated by electric current. Unfortunately, the chemical properties of batteries used for the working of devices are the properties that expose them to the risk of fire. Batteries that last long are inevitably packed with lithium ion. These have two electrodes or electrical conductors on opposite sides, with one electrode holding the positively charged electrons and is called the cathode. The cathode stores the ‘fuel’ since it is filled with lithium. The electrode on the opposite side holds the negatively charged ions and is referred to as the anode. When plugged in for charging, the lithium ions move from the cathode to the anode, but in the opposite direction while the battery is being used. The electrolytes are chemicals in-between facilitating the movement of ions between the two sides. However, it is essential that though ions move from side to side, the cathode and anode must never touch, since this will direct energy to the electrolytes. Battery manufacturers prevent this from happening by inserting a thin separator between the two. If the separator is flawed, the two will touch and cause all the problems-of overheating and catching fire.

Batteries also catch fire when they charge too fast or overcharge. Overcharge causes an energy overflow similar to a glass filled with more water than it can hold. In batteries, this happens when too much of the lithium flows into the anode. Phones are ideally supposed to stop the flow of electric current from the energy outlet once the battery is fully charged. Many manufacturers also ensure that phones switch off when batteries get heated.

Battery technology is advancing and the race is on to provide the lightest, fastest charging, longest lasting batteries that will hopefully not catch fire.

The risk and hazards of using mobile phones.

A survey conducted in the UK during accident awareness week revealed that 60 per cent of respondents had had their phones fall on their face, 43 per cent had walked into something or someone due to walking and focussing on their phones, 16 per cent had fallen off gym equipment, and 44 per cent had burned themselve whilst ironing, all thanks to phone distraction.

The figures would be more alarming if all kinds of mishaps, injuries and accidents were taken into account. Some of the most common health problems include injured fingers, selfie elbows, lower back pain due to posture problems, texters’ thumb and text neck. While these may seem trivial, the long-term impacts remain to be seen. Eye sight is impacted and doctors continue to warn against the potential damage to mental fitness. Sleeplessness and the ensuing brain fatigue are equally worrisome.

What is the most dangerous though, is the risk of accidents due to texting while driving or even talking while on the move. Hundreds of pedestrians are seen looking at their devices while walking on the roads and even crossing busy intersections.

But none of this deters us. Our addiction, our need and dependence on this device continues. A conscious effort needs to be made to break this obsessive, excessive addiction, and take a break, keep the device away even for fifteen minutes in a day. Psychologists specialising in addictions have now added mobile phone addiction to their list of ailments.

Most of us started using mobile phones and smart phones for work but they have now become our complete companion for music, relaxation, entertainment and even education. I wish we could keep the good, and discard the bad, or at least have the self control to resist the negative impacts of these devices due to the extent of damage they might cause.