By Ray Williams
February 15, 2021
Americans are bringing their smartphones into the bedroom. That’s right –– texting while having sex. A recently released study indicated one in ten participants admitted to having used their phone during sex. As far as young adults, ages 18 to 34, make that one in five — 20 percent.
The bedroom isn’t the only intrusion the smartphone is making into supposedly private, sacred moments, either. The 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits found 12 percent use their beloved devices in the shower. Worse still, more than 50 percent acknowledged they still text while driving, despite the fact that this is six times more dangerous than driving drunk.
In the U.S., over 24% of kids from 8 to 12 years old have their own smartphone and 67% of their teenage counterparts do, with younger teenagers using an average of about six hours’ worth of entertainment media daily. The average American spends around four hours a day on their smartphone, according to a RescueTime survey.
Smartphone Addiction Statistics and Facts
- The average time spent using the mobile internet for American adults in 2019 was around 3 hours and 30 minutes per day, up 20 minutes per day as compared to 2018. (Vox.)
- Mobile traffic accounted for 53.3 percent of all internet traffic in 2019, a 222 percent increase compared to 2013. (Broadband Search).
- 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone. (Pew Research Center).
- The risk of smartphone addiction is highest in young people, especially females. (NCBI).
- One in four youth is dealing with problematic smartphone usage.(BMC Psychiatry).
- Smartphone addiction is more common in users who are less emotionally stable. (University of Derby).
- Problematic smartphone use is linked to lower self-esteem. (NCBI).
- Americans check their smartphones 96 times per day. (Asurion).
- More than one in five teen drivers involved in a car accident were distracted due to smartphone use. (Carsurance).
- One in four adults wake up at least once during the night to check their smartphones. One in three teens do the same. (Common Sense Media).
- 39 percent of children wish their parents would spend less time on their device, up from 28 percent in 2016. (Common Sense Media).
- 38 percent of children think their parents have a smartphone addiction, up from 28 percent in 2016. (Common Sense Media).
- 62 percent of parents and 64 percent of teens use a mobile device within 30 minutes of waking up. (Common Sense Media).
Do we really have to talk, text, tweet or post while taking a shower or having sex? The “I-must-have-my-phone-with-me-at-all-times” mindset has become such a real problem, there’s now a name coined for the fear of being without your phone: nomophobia — as in no- mo(bile) phone-phobia—— that rush of anxiety and fear when you realize you are disconnected- out of the loop with friends, family, work and the world.
Is Smartphone Overuse an Addiction?
Although it might feel as though smartphones have been around forever, they are a fairly new technology. The issue of smartphone addiction is even newer. Even though many studies have been conducted around the topic, it’s still not fully understood.
We can generally define smartphone addiction as overuse of one’s device to the point that it causes damage or disruptionto one or more areas of one’s life. We’ll go into more detail below, but the impact of smartphone addiction might include damage to relationships, decreased productivity at work, home, or school, or damage to physical or mental health.
Smartphone addiction is sometimes referred to as “nomophobia.” The term is derived from “no-mobile-phone phobia,” a fear of not having a mobile device or mobile contact.
Experts debate about whether or not this should be classed as addiction. Addiction has severe physical and psychological effects, and according to a 2018 study, the impact of smartphone overuse wasn’t found to be severe enough to warrant the term. It does exhibit some signs of addiction such as negative consequences and impulse control problems, but it’s suggested that “problematic use” would be a more correct term.
Smartphone addiction (SA) is a controversial concept that is not recognized by psychiatry as a formal diagnosis. Critics say that a problematic relationship with one’s phone is usually a symptom of deeper underlying issues and that it is inappropriate to apply the language of addiction to technology. Nonetheless, other mental health experts believe SA is real and they’ve accumulated evidence suggesting it is associated with reductions in academic and work performance, sleep disorders, symptoms of depression and loneliness, declines in wellbeing – and an increased risk of road traffic accidents. According to a group of psychiatry and psychology researchers at one of the largest universities in Brazil, to that list can now be added: poorer decision-making.
Studies suggest that the numbers of people with notional SA (defined by difficulty in controlling use of the smartphone, constant preoccupation with the possibility of being without it, and poor mood when it is taken away) are high – about 25 per cent of the population in the US; 10 per cent of adolescents in the UK; and a massive 43 per cent of people in Brazil, where the new research, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, was conducted.
Previous work has found that people with other forms of dependency, including drug and gambling addiction, show impaired decision-making in ambiguous situations, though not when the risks associated with making a decision are clearly outlined. Julia Machado Khoury at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and her colleagues, including lab head Frederico Duarte Garcia, wanted to know whether the same might be true for people with SA.
They argue that the decisions of those scoring high in smartphone addiction are guided more by the search for rewards than the avoidance of punishments. They add that this could help to maintain and even worsen their addiction, and contribute to sliding academic performance and deteriorating social relationships.
Machado Koury and her colleagues suspect that people with pre-existing tendencies to favour gaining rewards over avoiding punishments may be more likely to develop smartphone addiction, which could then make these tendencies worse.
In a world that relies on people having smartphones – from work emails to cashless businesses – developing an addiction to your device is becoming increasingly difficult. While some think it’s only a mental issue, a study suggests that this constant usage physically affects your brain the same way drug addiction does. Regions in the brain known as grey matter showed changes in size and shape for people with social media addiction, according to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
What are the Symptoms of Smartphone Addiction?
Here are a few of the common symptoms of overuse of smartphones:
- Experiencing feelings of anxiety or irritability when away from your phone.
- Regularly relying on your mobile device to kill boredom
- The urge to use your phone when you shouldn’t, for example, while driving
- Spending an increasing amount of time on your smartphone.
- Other people mentioning how much time you spend on your device.
- Noticing that your phone use negatively impacts your work or relationships.
- Having difficulty cutting down on your device use.
- Constantly checkingthe phone for new texts, coupled with the compulsion to respond immediately.
- Experiencing phantom vibration syndrome (you think your phone is vibrating or ringing when it’s not).
Note that you don’t need to see all of these symptoms for your smartphone use to be problematic. Even seeing one or two of these could signal that you need to cut back.
What Causes Smartphone Addiction?
There is also much debate about whether people are addicted to the smartphone itself or the apps it provides access to. Indeed, it may be a mix of both. For example, someone who appears to have a smartphone addiction but almost exclusively uses their phone for gambling is more likely a gambling addict. Even so, their addiction may be exacerbated by the easy accessa smartphone provides.
Similarly, many users utilize smartphones primarily to access communication and social media apps. In this sense, it may be the social stimuli that they crave. One addiction expert has likened the use of smartphones to taking cocaine. And it’s fairly simple to make the link here. Social interactions such as messages and “likes” on social media platforms can cause the release of dopamine, the same chemical involved in drug addiction. Smartphones give us unlimited access to social stimuli and the resulting hits of dopamine.
Of course, there could be other factors at play here. Humans are generally prone to procrastination and smartphones offer the perfect excuse to procrastinateeven more than they normally would. In addition, our attention spans are decreasing. Since the start of the mobile era around 2000, our attention spans have decreased from 12 to eight seconds. There are potentially many users who are not interested in one app in particular, but find it hard to resist the bevvy of apps that are easily accessible at any given time.
Negative Impacts of Phone Addiction: Research
- A study showed that the mere presence of a cell phone is distracting enough to impede performance on mental tasks.
- Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes.
- 88% of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television.
- Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls.
- Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature.
- But we don’t need statistics to tell us we are over-attached to our technology. We already know this to be true—which is probably why this powerful video has received over 13,000,000 views in less than six days.
- Information overload.Fifty-four thousand words: that’s how much textual information—in the form of digital content—is dumped on the average social media user per day. When that measure is expanded to include emails, digital imagery, web browsing, and the like, it increases dramatically. According to a 2011 study reported by the Telegraph, we receive about 200 newspapers-worth of information everyday. And how much information does the average person produce? About six newspapers-worth. Whether you’re sending messages via text or Tinder, it all adds up. That same study also found that there were 295 exabytes of data floating around the world—that’s 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of information. Three-hundred and fifteen times the number of grains of sand on Earth. That was in 2011; we’ve no doubt surpassed that count by now.
- Scientifically speaking, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has been recognized as a recently emerging psychological disorder brought on by the advance of technology. The premise is simple. Our social media streams are ever-filled with everything happening all around us. Nowadays, we even see the plates of food our friends are enjoying. And within this constant stream of notification, our fear of being left out continues to grow. Turning off social media and finding contentment in our present space is a welcome skill.
Max Blumberg, a research psychologist from the University of London, said in an interview, “Our brains haven’t evolved to handle that level of high activity yet,” he continued– “And that’s a problem.” The science of how always-on technology impacts human behavior hasn’t been extensively explored—maybe because we’re still in the dawning of the information age. But some studies have been done, and the results are distressing. Researchers have found that social media might promote narcissism, smartphones could be causing insomnia, and screens seem to be making our kids less empathetic.“ Our brains will always be seduced by the high stimuli [of constant connectivity] because of the dopamine that it provides,” Blumberg explained in another interview. “It’s really similar to having ADHD.”
“People with ADHD, their big problem is that their cortex—the outer part of your brain that does the executive function like making decisions—doesn’t function in the way that it is supposed to,” he continued. “Unlike animals, who are distracted by every stimulus they encounter, human beings have the cortex, which is supposed to help them weigh up whether what they are currently doing is more important than whatever the new stimulus is—whether it’s a Facebook notification, phone call, or email.”
Essentially, we’re over-stimulating ourselves he says. Constant connectivity makes it hard to sustain attention on one task at a time. It can make us get all willy-nilly with our focus, giving our attention to whatever is right in front of us, without thinking about whether or not what is in front of us is truly worth our time. As a result, it’s harder to engage in deep thought, critical thought, and creativity.
Blumberg thinks this is going to have a serious impact on society: “In fact, what I think we’re going to see is a society that is even more divided into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. And we’re already starting to see that the kids from richer backgrounds are really restricted in the amount of TV and internet that they are allowed to use because their parents who built these big companies know what is required to be able to achieve such things, so those kids are going to end up building the big companies of the future.
“And the kids from poorer backgrounds, who are online all the time and have a very reactive brain, will end up being the consumers and customers of the other kids’ companies. There will be a huge market where people will buy anything because the brand is flashed up without having any critical thinking about it because their brains are not used to deep thinking.”
Excessive smartphone use can seem harmless enough at first, but there are many potential negative consequences of overuse. Here are some of the impacts smartphone addiction can have:
Damage to relationships
One of the first things we think of when we talk about a smartphone addiction is how damaging it can be to various relationships. This subtopic could easily constitute its own article, as the impact will depend on a variety of factors including who the relationship is between and the nature of the smartphone use.
For example, parents of young children might find that they spend too much time checking work emails or social media sites. Negative impacts could range from children acting out to get their parents’ attention or parents feeling guilty for time spent away from their child. In addition, children are inclined to model parents’ behavior, so excessive smartphone use could be setting the stage for addiction to be passed down.
With older children and teens, the problem is often mirrored or reversed. Parents find it difficult to tear their children away from their screens and may find that increased smartphone use is linked to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and anxiety.
Partners and spouses might see relationships deteriorate due to smartphone addiction. It has been linked to multiple issues including poor communication skills and problems with intimacy.
Relationship problems will depend on what smartphones are being used for, for example, general internet browsing, email, messaging, social media, streaming, gaming, gambling, or pornography. There may be other underlying addictions associated with smartphone use, such as sex or gambling addictions.
Another thing to bear in mind is that although humans are social creatures, we are designed to thrive in a limited social structure, estimated to comprise around 150 individuals. A lot of social media users will find they have many times this number of connections on a single platform. This begs the question of how manageable all of these relationships are.
As with other effects, the psychological impacts of smartphone use depend on what the phone is being used for. For example, if someone is constantly on social media platforms, this can have a variety of consequences, including low self-esteem and depression. Similarly, the use of gaming applications has been linked to several psychological issues, including aggressive behavior and dissociative disorders.
Stress is another major concern among many smartphone users, particularly those who use their phone for work. The ability to check your work messages at any secondfrom the moment you wake up until you go to bed (and sometimes in between) can make it feel as though you’re working constantly.
Of course, all of these things are potential issues without smartphones, as they involve internet-based platforms that can be accessed with any computer. However, the accessibility of smartphones makes it easier for users to spend more time on these applications.
Indeed, some reports have linked smartphone addiction in general to psychological problems. One study found links between smartphone use and ADHD, suggesting that a daily stream of alerts and notifications may cause inattention and hyperactivity.
One study even found a strong correlation between smartphone use and teen suicide, regardless of what the phone is used for. Teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide.
Damage to physical health
Studies suggest that overuse of smartphones can lead to a range of negative physical consequences, including:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Heavy smartphone use has been linked to wrist and hand pain, and could even cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Lack of or poor sleep:Numerous studies have highlighted the negative correlation between smartphone use and sleep quality. Effects are especially pronounced if you use your phone close to bedtime. Lack of sleep can lead to other issues such as poor concentration, lower productivity, and short-temperedness.
- Eye problems: Blue light from your phone can cause digital eyestrain and even lead to retina damage. Particularly concerning is that one study found that children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adult’s do.
- Cancer risks: There is concern that radiofrequency radiation emitted from cell phones could be involved in some types of cancer. However, it should be noted that studies have generally shown that there isn’t a link between cellphone use and cancer.
- Bad posture: Using a smartphone often involves a less-than-ideal body position. This misalignment can lead to pain and posture issues.
An illustration of the weight of the head in different positions, according to a 2014 study.
In addition to these direct physical impacts, you could put yourself and others in danger of serious injury if you try to do other tasks such as driving or operating heavy machinery while using your phone. Even something as seemingly simple as cooking while using your phone could have disastrous results.
Obviously, if you’re doing something on your phone that isn’t work-related, then this is taking away from time you could be spending working. A 2016 Kaspersky lab study reported a strong correlation between smartphone accessibility and decreased productivity.The worst case scenario for most workers is that they are fired for spending too much time on their phone or other connected devices at work. But even if you don’t get caught or fired, if your productivity is lowered, chances are that you’re also decreasing your chances of promotion.
One thing that appears to distract employees at work is watching shows, movies, and sports events. An extreme case is that of an ex-employee of Robert DeNiro who allegedly binge-watched 55 hours of Friends over a four-day period while she was supposedly working.
Clearly, not everyone takes it to this extreme, but studies have shown that many employees have no issues using their device while at work. One report suggested more than one-third of white-collar Americans watch TV shows or sporting events during their workday. And a Udemy report foundthat 36 percent of millenials and Gen Zers admit to using their phone for personal activities for more than two hours during working hours.
Problems in your career will ultimately have an impact on your bottom line. But that’s not the only area where smartphone addiction can burn a hole in your wallet. Depending on what you’re using your phone for, you could find yourself deeper in the hole after every session.
For example, many online gaming apps appear to be just for fun at first, but lots of them offer in-app purchases. Once they get you hooked, the spending begins. In fact, gaming apps accounted for 72 percent of iOS App Store spending in 2019.
A whopping 140 games made more than $100 million in 2019 and mobile accounts for more spending than any other gaming platform.
Similarly, gambling apps represent a huge problem for gambling addicts. They are essentially holding a casino in their hand wherever they go. And the same goes for ecommerce sites; ads prey on users with a sense of urgency and purchases can be made with just one or two clicks. Other activities you might use your phone for such as online dating or cybersex can also rack up huge bills.
What to Do About Smartphone Addiction
As with other problematic behaviors, it can be difficult to change habits related to smartphone use. One thing to bear in mind is that this is a widespread problem and there are tools and resources available to help you. Here are some steps you can take to help you or a family member address the issues associated with overuse of smartphones and decrease the time spent on apps.
Assess the extent of and reasons for the addiction. As with any addiction problem, it’s important to assess the extent of the issue and to get to the root of it. Why do you think you may have a problem? Do you feel like this is affecting your health, relationships, or career? Is the problem severe or do you think you need to just cut back a bit? You also need to determine what’s causing you to spend so much time on your phoneso that can address individual issues. Do you feel the need to be on social media? Are you checking your email or other apps for work? Are there emotional triggers that cause you to pick up your phone such as stress or loneliness? Tools such as iOS’s Screen Time and Android’s Digital Wellbeing are great for finding out how much time you spend on various applications on your phone. They will even tell you how many times a day you pick up your phone.
Decide where you want to cut back. With smartphones, it generally doesn’t make sense to go cold turkey. Most people genuinely need their phones for some reason or another, be it to stay in touch with friends and family or to access applications for work. That said, you can create your own set of rules around your phone use. Here are a few examples:
- Only allow use of certain apps at select times of day.
- Delete apps you spend too much time on.
- Check your phone at select times. For example, if you need to keep an eye on your phone for work, allow yourself to check it at acceptable intervals such as every half hour or hour.
- Ban phones completely at certain times, for example, during dinner or while putting the kids to bed.
- Give yourself a time limit for the day.
- Set a task that you can reward with a set amount of phone time.
Don’t use your phone for all tasks. There is seemingly an app for everything these days. But using our phones for all the tasks they’re capable of can result in us relying on them too much. Plus, picking up a smartphone to use a timer or calculator can encourage us to use them for other things at the same time. How many times have you picked up your phone and become distracted by a notification, forgetting what you were going to use it for in the first place? Think about how you could go back to basics to negate the need for some applications. For instance, you could use a traditional calendar, calculator, or stopwatch instead of your phone. One thing that many people are reverting back to is a traditional alarm clock. This is an especially good idea as it alleviates the need to have your phone beside your bed. Consider only allowing yourself to use a computer for certain applications such as social media. This can drastically cut your usage and prevent you from checking Facebook.
Focus on other activities. Clearly, there are times when you should be doing something other than using your phone, for example, completing work tasks or schoolwork. But you might also be wasting valuable leisure time on your phone. If this is the case, it’s worth thinking about other things you could channel your energy into. The key here is to identify times during the day when you find yourself using your phone too much. Then replace the phone activity with something else. For example, if you’re taking a planned break from work or schoolwork, consider doing something other than turning to your phone, such as meditating, going for a walk, or making a soothing cup of tea. Do you find yourself reading low-quality content on your phone? Consider reading physical books or magazines instead. Studies have shown that you actually retain more information this way. Do you spend hours on your phone in the evening and on weekends? Think about a hobby you’ve been wanting to tryand take that up instead.
Use the tools available. One of the most basic features that can limit smartphone distraction is the “Do Not Disturb” option built into most smartphone operating systems. This will prevent your phone from lighting up, vibrating, or making noise when you receive calls, alerts, or notifications. In addition, while you might be trying to limit your use of some apps, there are others that can help you. Here are a few examples:
- Screen Time (iOS): We mentioned this iOS app above as it’s great for determining exactly how much time you spend on your phone and on what applications. It allows you to schedule downtime and set limits on certain applications.
- Digital Wellbeing (Android): This Android app works in a similar manner to Screen Time.
- SPACE (iOS/Android): Dubbed a “phone/life balance” app, SPACE lets you set goals for phone use and compare your behavior with that of friends and family.
- RescueTime (iOS/Android):This app helps you limit access to certain applications, and gives you greater control than Screen Time or Digital Wellbeing.
These may take some time to set up, but once you get started using one of these apps, you should find yourself taking back control over your smartphone usage.
Seek outside help. If this is something you don’t think you can do alone, it’s a good idea to seek outside help. Children and teens in particular may be more receptive to help from adults other than their parents, such as family friends, teachers, coaches, or doctors. There are various avenues you can take to seek professional help. Counseling or therapy in a one-on-one or group settingcan be beneficial to people dealing with smartphone overuse. This is particularly true of those facing underlying issues, such as depression or anxiety, or other addictions such as gambling or sex addictions. One common treatment for smartphone addiction is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Work to change policies around smartphone use. Sometimes smartphone addiction can be perpetuated by the culture surrounding device use. For example, if it’s acceptable for children to use their phones in the classroom or school hallways, then it’s possible they’re going to spend more time on devices. Similarly, if an employer expects workers to respond to emails at all hours of the day, then employees will naturally check their phones more often and become more attached to their devices. In some regions, there are bans against the use of smartphones in schoolsor strict regulations outlining when and how they may be used. For example, in France, there’s a ban on cellphone use in schools and employees have the right to ignore emails outside of work time.
In the US, many employers are now recognizing the need to help alleviate employee stress by implementing policies against being constantly connected. Some companies have a “going dark” policy when employees go on vacation. This involves a colleague changing the vacationing employee’s email password so that they can’t check emails while away, even if they’re tempted. In these cases, change needs to come from above. It could be worth asking about a change in policy in your school or place or work to create an environment that helps stymie overuse of smartphones.
Copyright: Neither this article or a portion thereof may be reproduced in any print or media format without the express permission of the author.
Read my latest book: I Know Myself and Neither Do You: Why Charisma, Confidence and Pedigree Won’t Take You Where You Want To Go, available in paperback and ebook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia and Asia.