How Smartphones Make Us Stupid & Stressed

By Jevon Dangeli, MSc Transpersonal Psychology

Digital zombies on the rise

Research suggests that stress is proliferating, with more people being negatively affected by it today than ever before (Olpin and Hesson, 2015). Indeed, in an attempt to deal with the new or intensified types of challenges that the predominantly high-tech and fast paced lifestyles of today demand, we are, to a certain degree, being forced into a stressful mode of tunnel awareness in order to fulfil many of our functions in both the workforce and in our social life. Society has never before had the technological means to capture and narrow our attention as it does today. With our online digital devices readily on hand, the media and the medium have merged, and the result is, to some extent, that we have become the victims of attention slavery, giving rise to a generation of digital zombies (Spitzer, 2016).

A digital zombie can be described as a person using digital technology to a point that they become fixated in an artificial reality. Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer (2016) argues that digital zombies have difficulty looking people in the eye or carrying on healthy conversations. They are less aware of life happening around them and they have limited social skills in the real world. Furthermore, they are prone to an early onset dementia, known as digital dementia (Spitzer, 2016). Generational research has shown that the more time we spend looking at screens, the more likely we are to experience psychological distress and depression (Twenge, 2017). Excessive use of mobile digital devices, E.G., smartphones, can potentially hard-wire tunnel awareness in children and adults, with detrimental consequences regarding health, learning and attention disorders, performance issues, relationship conflicts and social problems (Spitzer, 2016, Twenge, 2017). When we are feeling highly stressed, in fight or flight mode, we are in tunnel awareness (Yates, 2015; Dangeli, 2015; Hanson, 2011; Overdurf, 2013).

With our attention locked in by the gadgets that we have become accustomed to use in order to operate in this world, we may find ourselves unable or less able to release our attention, when appropriate, in order to interact with each other and our environment in an ethical and effective manner (Twenge, 2017). This phenomenon could give rise to interpersonal and social problems, as well as elevated stress levels, which, if unresolved can lead to burnout (Brühlmann, 2011). In an attempt to cope, individuals may retreat further into a virtual world in favour of interacting with virtual ‘friends’ for the sake of convenience, quick fixes and immediate gratification (Twenge, 2017). This hypothesis suggests that as an increasing amount of the world’s population becomes more tuned into an artificial reality, our ability to tune back out into the rest of reality may become jeopardised. In a mode of tunnel awareness, one may be less able to think creatively and deal with life’s stressors resourcefully (Hanson, 2011; Overdurf, 2013). On the other hand, if one is able to counteract such a narrowing of awareness through applying a means to reopen one’s mode of perception, then the person may find that he or she is better equipped to navigate the multi-dimensional challenges of life beyond the flat screens of their electronic devices.

Banning smartphones in schools, as France has recently implemented, may not be enough to resolve the tunnel awareness epidemic. We need a way to reopen our aperture of our awareness. This may be especially important among young people in learning and social environments.

Open awareness to the rescue

The simple skill of open awareness has been found to counteract stress, anxiety and a sense of separateness, by activating a calm and resourceful state that is accompanied by a sense of interconnectedness (Yates, 2015, Dangeli, 2015, Hanson, 2011).

Through using and teaching open awareness techniques since 2004, as well as studying the phenomenology of open awareness in my 2015 MSc research, I have found that shifting out of tunnel awareness into open awareness can be achieved with relative ease by children and adults of at least moderate physical and psychological health. By introducing open awareness skills in learning environments and in the work place, the harmful effects of tunnel awareness can be prevented, and mindful resourcefulness can be promoted. There are a variety of open awareness practices available today, many of which can be learned in a short amount of time. The practice of jumi (judo mind) was established to help people cultivate and embody open awareness. There are jumi sequences suitable for young and old, at any level of fitness and psycho-spiritual development. These days I readily recommend jumi practice to my clients, and they consistently report positive results. Could this be a timely antidote for the digital zombie syndrome?

Open awareness website

Jumi website


Brühlmann, T. (2011). Open Forum at The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from the World Wide Web: v=77Fy7kKHAfA

Dangeli, J. (2015). EXPLORING THE PHENOMENON OF PERIPHERAL AWARENESS AND ITS,EFFECTS ON STRESS AND BURNOUT. MSc Research Dissertation. Retrieved from content/uploads/2015/10/Open_Awareness-Dissertation_Jevon_Dangeli.pdf

Hanson, R. (2011). Buddha’s Brain, Lighting up the Neural Circuits of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. Retrieved June, 27 2013, from The World Wide Web:

Oplen, M. and Hesson, M. (2015). Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, 4th edition. Cengage Learning.

Overdurf, J. (personal communication, June 20, 2013)

Spitzer, M. (2016). Digital dementia in the age of new media. Retrieved from

Twenge, J. (2017). Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Retrieved from generation/534198/?utm_source=twb