For most people, smartphones have become a way of life. It’s only been about 15 years since the first iPhones were released, but today, it’s hard to get along without one. In fact, 81% of American adults now own a smartphone. With more transactions taking place online, not having a phone can cause major inconveniences.
With all that said, we know there are some major problems with our culture’s dependence on technology in general, and smartphones especially. These devices can easily become addictive and cause a range of problems for people in their everyday lives.
But, what exactly qualifies as technology or smartphone addiction? How much of a problem is it? And what can you do if you find that you’re relying too much on your phone? Here’s what you need to know.
What is Smartphone Addiction?
Addiction is the compulsive seeking and use of something, despite negative consequences that may have a long-term impact. Traditionally, addiction is linked with substances like drugs, but it can apply to other activities as well, such as gambling. Smartphone addiction carries many of the hallmarks of more “traditional” addictions, although it is not formally classified as an addiction at this time.
People who suffer from overdependence on technology or smartphone addiction may experience the following problems due to their use:
- Fear of missing out
- Damaged personal relationships
- Isolation and loneliness
- Boredom when not using a smartphone
- Difficulty focusing
- Disrupted sleep
- Unhealthy attachment
Recent research indicates that smartphone addiction can even cause changes in the brain, after researchers analyzed MRI results of a group of heavy smartphone users. The implications of this are good arguments for taking smartphone addiction seriously.
Why Smartphones and Technology Are So Addictive
Smartphones can be addictive for people of all ages. But why? Mainly because of the responses they cause in the brain and our hard-wired human needs.
When we use our phones, we’re often doing something we enjoy, whether that’s connecting with an old friend, checking social media, or playing a game. Smartphones are a fairly reliable source of dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. When you get a new notification, for instance, there’s a little hit of dopamine.
Because the human brain seeks out those moments of dopamine release, often in the form of connection with others, it’s all too easy to build a habit of seeking them out via your smartphone. The more your phone provides you with dopamine, the more you want to use your phone.
We want to connect with others so badly that we become addicted to our phones for the reward of connection. Unfortunately, communicating with others through our phones doesn’t prompt the most satisfying connections, which can lead to problems like feeling isolated as we seek even more connection. This is especially true when smartphone addiction interferes with face-to-face connection.
People who are addicted to gambling are also after the dopamine hit. The excitement of gambling itself leads to problem behaviors and an inability to walk away. Smartphones combined with gambling (gambling apps) is an even bigger problem that has been growing in recent years.
How Common is Smartphone Addiction?
Unsurprisingly, smartphone addiction has been on the rise as we spend more and more of our time online. There’s even a word for the fear of being without your phone: nomophobia. The COVID-19 pandemic made us even more reliant on technology, causing problematic usage to spike.
As a society, we’re at least aware of how much we’re using our phones. 75% of Americans admit to being addicted to their smartphones, although the number who are experiencing mental health symptoms and other problems due to overdependence is unknown. Some people check their phones as often as 200 times per day.
Are You Addicted to Your Phone?
Most of us are overly dependent on our phones, but does that mean you’re legitimately addicted?
Keep an eye on your usage and track what you’re doing throughout the day. How often do you reach for your phone? How many hours are you spending on it? Is it disrupting your mental health, sleep, relationships, and other activities? If so, you might be dealing with addiction and should consider working on healthier habits.
Smartphones & Kids: Preventing Addiction
Smartphone addiction is especially scary for parents of children and teens. Kids use technology for everything from schoolwork to video games, making it tough for parents to regulate their usage and prevent addiction. Furthermore, the consequences of technology overuse for kids and teens are still being studied and debated, making it difficult for families to make decisions based on scientific evidence.
Parents can do their part by monitoring kids’ technology use to ensure that it isn’t excessive. They should also keep an eye out for problems like anxiety, cyberbullying, sleep disruption, and physical health problems due to technology overuse.
Even adults struggle to regulate their phone usage, and kids might not even realize their use is problematic. Intervention may be necessary to address overdependence and potential smartphone addiction in children and teens.
Is it Realistic to Get Rid of Your Phone?
After learning more about how problematic and common smartphone addiction is, you might be wondering if getting rid of your phone is the best choice in the long run. Probably not, considering the role they now play in society. As more businesses go paperless and many phase out cash, it will become even harder to live a phone-free life, or even to leave your phone at home once in a while.
Instead of giving up your phone altogether, creating clear boundaries and finding balance in your life will help you prevent the harmful effects of smartphone addiction. Turning off notifications, emphasizing phone-free activities, and consciously leaving your phone in another room while you work, read, or spend time with loved ones are all good ways to reduce your smartphone dependence.
It’s impossible to deny that smartphones offer us lots of benefits. They can replace lots of different gadgets, they offer us convenient ways to organize and complete our tasks, and they provide us with endless entertainment. The trick is accessing these benefits without letting your devices take over your life.
Finding balance isn’t easy. Smartphones hit all our dopamine buttons and make it difficult to walk away. But for the sake of your mental and physical health, keeping your phone use in check is probably one of the smartest things you can do.