Smoking and Smartphone

Smoking and Smartphone.

What do these two have in common? At a glance, they don't have that much in common. Well they both start with an S. 

But if you think a little bit more about these two, you realize they are both really addicting and they have serious long term consequences. Wait, I thought smartphone only had benefits to it. My life has been only been more comfortable with it, you could think. Well, it's time to find out. 

Before that, I want to lay out two assumptions which I believe are true.

  1. Humans act in a way that brings (more) instant gratification. For instance, if there's a shitty Chinese food and a tasty Chinese food, chances are you are going to eat later. If you prefer shittier one, go watch Hell's kitchen or something, you don't belong here.
  2. There's no free lunch. Meaning your company doesn't have free, catered lunch to your office. No, I mean this in an economic term, that you have to pay price to get something. Nothing ever comes as free other than natural resources.


Smoking is bad. So everybody thinks, at least in 2017 and they are right. But smoking has good parts of it (well not in terms of health). Let me show you what smoking looks like with the following line chart, which took surprisingly a lot of time... 


Short-term effects

Here's how it normally goes. You feel "meh" most of the times. In your average daily life, you don't feel particularly good or particularly bad. This is also known as homeostasis.

But when you smoke, you feel a surge of adrenaline and dopamine rush. You feel relaxed, energized and motivated. There's also a temporary intelligence uptick. This is probably the reason why back in the office, smoking was so popular and was tolerated in the office - it can boost productivity.

Once you are done, you descend to your "meh" stage, then feel bad due to the crash. Also it can smell bad, your mouth definitely smells bad, you want to smoke you can't, so there's a dip in your mood.

Then you smoke again, ah it feels pretty good! At least during when you are smoking. But it doesn't feel as good as your previous session since everything has a diminishing marginal utility. And you repeat this on and on as a regular smoker.

Long-term impacts

Now, you could argue that maybe the area under the curve when you smoke is greater than your withdrawal phase. This may be true. After all, why would you be doing if you felt bad when you smoke compared to when you didn't?

But following my second assumption, unfortunately, there's no such thing as free lunch. You may feel better and great now, but it all comes with a price. By smoking regularly, you inevitably feel less healthy. Your throat hurts and in longer them, you may end up with lung cancer or other forms of cancer which is not so pleasant. 

As you could see, near term benefits bring detrimental long term consequences with smoking. And honestly, this is pretty obvious to the point that almost everybody is aware of this nowadays. Now on to the next, less obvious topic.


So what's so bad with using your smartphone? you could say. Do you even smartphone? Literally everybody in U.S is using smartphones, so what's the deal here? After all, it's not smoking and you rarely get cancer from it. 

With smartphone, there are other sets of issues that come with an unregulated use of the device. It's an addiction that is not as evident as smoking cigarettes and its long term consequences don't seem as lethal as smoking. But let me start with the same chart that I used above.


Unregulated use of smartphone is really bad and is hard to control because humans are dumb and stupid (including me, probably dumber than anybody else). My first assumption was that people want instant gratification. And what makes smartphone really deadly is that there's no other device that's adept at providing instant gratification than a smartphone. With that, you could instantly get an access to a wealth of (absolutely useless) information. Your friend's Facebook, Instagram, all the political crap that's happening out there, a dude flipping a water bottle and somehow it standing still. The list can only go on and on. 

Short-term effects

Given that our life at work or school is boring and hard, it makes it especially tempting for us to use smartphone to get some dopamine rush instantly, and its free too! Just like we are able to feel more motivated and "smarter" by smoking, we get a fair share of chuckle by watching people do dumb things and seeing "cool" things that have nothing to do with my life, most of the time. But whatever, it's better than looking at my satellite redeployment plan, or working on a problem set that deals with Jacobian Matrix right? Nothing fares worse than that anyways. It's so boring! Smartphone is so much fun! 

Long-term impacts

But everything comes with a price. Using smartphone for Email or SNS or whatever has its own (hefty) prices. For example,

  • Looking at your friend's awesome life makes you feel like shit because you are stuck at your cubicle when they are living their lives. You are seeing their "highs" during your "lows" and you feel bad about yourself. 
  • Since our daily jobs are so boring, we check our phone every time we want to avoid the hard part. Only 15 minutes have passed since I started working on something and I've hit the roadblock. What do I do next instinctively? Check my phone. Go to Facebook and get some dopamine rush. Do this over and over, except the term between work and checking phone becomes shorter and shorter. This means that my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. This is especially harmful since our achievements come with our attention (multiplied by time). Shorter attention span = less achievements. This can as bad as, if not worse than lung cancer.
  • We forget how to deal with awkward silences during conversation with people, or in general. When you are talking to a friend and there's a pause, what's the first thing you do? take your phone out and divert your attention to some other place. When you are waiting for your Coldbrew at Starbucks, what do you do? Check your phone. I mean, if you observe, literally everybody these days seems to be glued to their phones and this is pathetic. 

The list goes on and on, but the bottom lines is that with an excessive use of smartphone, it seems like we are losing our basic capabilities and competencies as human beings. And everything seems so innocuous. I think not enough time has passed so that we have an abundance of empirical results to prove the toxicity and longer term effects. But it doesn't sound too crazy to envision that in the future there will be two (additional) groups of people. On top of smokers vs non smokers there'll be something like smartphone users vs smartphone slaves. 


Even when I'm aware of this (so does a lot of people) it is really difficult to control the use of smartphone since so many of our lives are dependent on this ever powerful device. So you kinda have to start with something. Take a little step such as I'm not going to use it for next hour (or hell even 15 minutes and see how difficult it is). I noticed that as I started practicing this new routine, I've been able to increasingly regulate my use. But again, this is extremely challenging since humans are simple organisms driven by habits, so sometimes I fail miserably and become an instant gratification seeking machine. But other times, I can maintain control of my smartphone free life and get some stuff done. 

So hopefully, you can realize that the problem is also evident in your life and start acting on it because in our life, there will always be an on-going war between our attention and our smartphone and it isn't going to be the smartphone that's going to lose. It'll only become more convenient to use with more powerful functions that's beyond our imagination. 

Taeyang You