Night Of The Living Mobile Device

Theyre coming to get you, Barbara.

Like Johnny teases his sister in the opening of “Night of the Living Dead“?

More accurately, for our purposes, youre coming to get it — with “it” being whatever you’re shopping for online with your phone, tablet or laptop. Whether or not your name happens to be Barbara (but you must be a little weirded out if it is), chances are that you are engaging in that behavior late at night … in bed but wide awake … your bloodshot eyes reflecting the hypnotizing blue glow of your device’s screen.

There is no sleep for you. There is only mobile shopping. Must … keep … shopping.

Perhaps the situation isn’t that dramatic, but here are the facts.

In the last decade-plus that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking the amount of time that Americans divide among various activities on a daily basis, the general amount of activities and the time spent on each hasn’t changed all that much. People work about eight hours a day, commit a couple hours to housework (on the days that housework is done), another couple hours to childcare and five or six hours dedicated to leisure activity — be that socializing, exercising, watching TV and the like.

That “leisure activity” category, of course, is the sweet spot for mobile device interaction, which itself has come to encompass activities like socializing and TV watching. But even though our ever-present gadgets allow us to multitask in a way that generations prior never could (and maybe even at times that we shouldn’t, like when we’re driving), they haven’t been able to carve out any extra space just for themselves.

The only place there’s room, arguably, is in the average eight hours in a day that people spend sleeping.

Slowly but surely, mobile device usage is creeping up on that space.

More than 54 percent (and rising) of people check their phones while lying in bed — whether it’s before they go to sleep, right when they wake up, in the middle of the night … or even all three.

The dead of night — when work and family obligations are at their least pressing — is the ideal time for mobile devices to strike, as they can finally grasp the full attention that they’ve been trying to get from us all day. It’s just you and the screen, alone at last.

Your late-night mobile device usage starts out innocently enough, of course: You’re just checking in on Facebook, seeing what your friends and loved ones have been up to. But then — oh yeah, you were going to buy your sister that thing for her birthday. And actually, you were going to buy yourself that other thing because you wanted it.

Then you’re shopping (after all, as Shopify reports, one-third of eCommerce sales take place on mobile devices, and “in 2014 eCommerce orders coming from social media grew a staggering 202 percent”), and it’s off to the races. The kind of races where you’re lying dormant, moving no part of your body other than your fingers.

One shopping website leads to another, then to a funny video on YouTube, then back to social media, and then you’re shopping again and the next thing you know … IT’S MORNING AND YOU’RE LATE FOR WORK AND OMG YOU’VE LOST YOUR JOB.

OK, again, some dramatic hyperbole there to go along with the spooky theme. But in reality, using your mobile device in bed is costing you sleep; it’s been scientifically proven:

The problem isnt just artificial light in general. Increasingly, we are surrounded by light on the short-wave, or blue light,” spectrum — light which our circadian systems interpret as daylight. Blue light emanates from our computers, our televisions, our phones and our e-readers; 90 percent of Americans use electronic devices that emit it. When we spend time with a blue-light-emitting device, we are, in essence, postponing the signal to our brain that tells it that its time to go to sleep. (What have we done with our dusk?” Charles Czeisler asks.) When dusk” gets pushed progressively later because of these false light cues, we get a surge of energy rather than the intended melatonin release. [The New Yorker — July 7, 2015]

The adverse physical effects of our personal electronic devices are something to be taken seriously. However, other than in the most extreme cases of mobile phone addiction, the biological need for sleep will, night after night, win out over the device. Eventually. And most would likely agree that that’s a good thing for humanity; without sleep on a mass scale, civilization would devolve into madness.

That being said — boy, do we love our mobile devices. And there are only so many waking hours in the day to do the things we need to do! Especially shopping. If you can’t get to the store during the day to buy what you need, how can you turn down the chance to buy that same item online, late at night, from the comfort of your bed?

Most people can’t, and that’s why late-night, in-bed-but-not-sleeping mobile device usage continues to rise. For the time being, the trend — good for commerce, questionable for our physical health — at least keeps us aware that we remain in control of our device usage, for better or for worse.

The thought of a world in which the mobile devices just take over when we’re unconscious, doing all of our shopping and socializing for us? Thats something that might make you sleep with one eye open.

Probably looking at your phone.


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