Jeff Herman
Feb 17, 2012

Smartphones, they may just save our lives

I’m not sure if Alexander Graham Bell -- the Steve Jobs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; a brilliant scientist and the inventor of the first telephone; and a man that actually found the telephone to be a rather annoying distraction -- could imagine how his vision would revolutionize the world, let alone evolve into the smartphone. Love it or hate it, smartphones have forever changed our society. However, contrary to sales reports, teenagers and pop-culture, the rise of this technological device has been somewhat contentious. Along with the simultaneous development of websites like Facebook and Twitter, smartphones have connected the world in a way never previously thought possible. Many applaud this newly-connected world, but others think that this technology has also irrevocably harmed our ability to have meaningful human to human relationships.

Social ramifications are one thing, but what about health ramifications? The World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration have classified the use of cellular phones as a possible carcinogen; which indicate that smartphones may increase the risk of developing cancer. Then again, so can life. In all honesty, the biggest health risk of smartphone use is likely addiction. Smartphones can be as addictive as drugs and video games. The majority of the documented health risks of a smartphone use are actually attributed to overuse, including carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, tiredness, headaches, and premature wrinkling around the eyes. A simple fix for these problems would be to put the phone down and give yourself a rest; however, addiction is a powerful monster. Addiction can also lead to other physiological and psychological problems including stress and depression. Similar to drinking and driving, smartphone addiction may help explain some of the poor choices involved when choosing to text or talk and drive.

While these health risks are real, they may pale in comparison to the many health benefits of smartphones. Described in the article, PDA and smartphone use by individuals with moderate-to-severe memory impairment: Application of a theory-driven training programme, researchers from Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, Canada, developed a program that utilized implicit memory techniques to help train patients with severe memory problems use smartphones. Implicit memory is the type of memory that can be performed without a conscious memory recall (i.e. It’s like riding a bike…”). By using implicit memory to teach patients how to use a smartphone, patients were able to, by themselves, program important daily reminders that would keep them on track and allow more independence in their daily lives.  Several other exciting smartphone-related tools are also being developed which may promise to make our phones into useful healthcare devices. For example, Mobilyze! is an app presently in development that will be able to sense your emotional state and encourages you to visit friends if you are feeling depressed and isolated. Your phone may one day become your therapist. An app developed to allow doctors to look at high resolution brain scans, was successfully tested as a very accurate and mobile diagnostic tool for stroke victims. Furthermore, the article: Preliminary Efforts Directed Toward the Detection of Craving of Illicit Substances: The iHeal Project, describes the initial stages of creating a tool that would integrate smartphone technology, artificial intelligence, and biophysical monitoring, in order to monitor and attempt to distract people from succumbing to addictive impulses, including drugs, alcohol and food.  

These inventions are just the tip of the iceberg. With increasingly advanced and integrated technology, along with incredible lateral thinking on how to utilize smart phones in the pursuit of better health care, it will not be long before your phone becomes a self-contained biomedical diagnostic device. With that said, it might also be a good idea to put the phone down every once in a while and enjoy the world a bit.


Eva Svoboda, a clinical neuropsychologist at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, discusses their work using smartphones to improve the lives of people with memory impairment .