Mobile Device Addiction is Real
If you are under 18, you are a digital native in a world where mobile devices are an essential part of your daily landscape. You probably cannot imagine living without them. You are very possibly addicted to mobile devices.
Older generations are always concerned about the younger ones. This is especially true when they are engaging in activities that older people don’t understand. Most adults use mobile devices and are increasingly dependent upon them. But if you are over 30, you probably did not have mobile devices when you were a kid and you can probably imagine a world without them. Most younger people, however, have no way of understanding what this is like.
Attachment to smartphones and other mobile devices is a real and growing problem in our world today. This trend will grow as younger generations that have these technologies wired into their DNA replace the older generations which consist of many reluctant users. These “digital natives” think about technology differently than older generations and this will change our society in ways that we can only begin to imagine.
According to Stanley Teitelbaum, a clinical psychologist, cell phone addiction should now be classified as a disorder. It is dangerous to our mental health, because, as he says, many adults and older teens, “it becomes a way of avoiding other things, it’s a way of avoiding life.”
Psychologists have developed a number of terms to describe this: Internet Addiction, Mobile Device Addiction, Technology Addiction, Smartphone Addiction, or “nomophobia“. According to Dr. Dale Archer, “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.”
Ana Homayoun, the author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World, notes that “although there is currently no official medical recognition of ‘smartphone addiction’ as a disease or disorder, the term refers to obsessive behaviors that disturb the course of daily activities in a way that mirrors patterns similar to substance abuse.”
Are Teenagers Addicted to Mobile Devices?
Both teens and their parents largely agree that they are addicted to mobile devices. Teens certainly exhibit behaviors typical of addiction.
The International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland recently studied the reactions of teenagers in 10 different countries to an experiment in which they were required to forgo use their cellphones and other mobile devices for 24 hours.
The results of the study, “A World Unplugged” suggests that teenagers are, in fact, addicted to mobile devices. Young people begin and end their days with mobile devices. “Many students reported waking up and immediately checking their cell phones for texts and emails and Facebook updates while still lying in bed… and then checking them all one final time before falling asleep at night.”
Companies that create and market new technology are certainly aware of ways that they can capitalize on this addictive behavior. Among tech designers, “there has long been an understood need to create platforms that are small and mobile, so someone can make a call, surf the web, and update Facebook all while literally walking across town, or, even more often, semi-surreptitiously, one-handed under a table or desk.”
Symptoms of Device Addiction
There are a number of symptoms characteristic of people that are addicted to mobile devices.
- Young people report being anxious, lonely and depressed when deprived of access to mobile devices and social media. According to “The World Unplugged”, students “likened their reactions to feelings of a drug withdrawal.”
- Phantom phone vibration, feeling that your phone is going off or signaling a notification when it is not, is another symptom of being addicted to mobile devices.
- Reduced productivity due to a constant need to check a mobile device. People that check their phones in meetings, during conversations, at the dinner table, while watching a movie, or while driving are very likely addicted to mobile devices.
- Frequent “phubbers” are probably addicted. “Phubbing” is the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones.
- Continual efforts to reduce usage of mobile devices never work out. Many people suffering from addiction know that they are addicted. They often try new approaches to combat it. One telling sign of addiction is when these efforts are frequent and unsuccessful.
You can test yourself to see if you are addicted to mobile devices by taking this Smartphone Compulsion Test, designed by Dr. David Greenfield from The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction.
Is it Necessarily a Problem If A Person Is Addicted to Mobile Devices?
Becoming addicted to mobile devices has some obvious consequences, but not all of them are bad. Obviously, mobile devices are convenient. It is never been this easy to access information, get directions, read the news, check in with your friends, take pictures, and countless other tasks that were either difficult or impossible for prior generations. Furthermore, mobile devices and social media apps connect people in ways that were never possible before. Single people- straight, gay, male, female, young, old, Christian, non-Christian, etc.- now have places to look to find people who might be similarly situated. Parents now have the ability to hold their kids accountable for their actions and movements by tracking their mobile devices as well.
Consequences of Mobile Device Addiction
But mobile devices also have numerous real and potential negative consequences. For example,
- Our brains are becoming permanently distracted. Reading from mobile devices creates what Cynthia Price, author of the recently published, How to Break Up with Your Phone, calls “an intensely focused state of distraction.” According to Price, “This type of frequent, focused distraction isn’t just capable of creating long-lasting changes in our brains; it is particularly good at doing so.”
- Distraction impairs brain functioning contributing to memory loss and impairment of information processing. One of the most important studies of media multitasking has found that those who attempt to use mobile devices while doing other things have a difficult time completing tasks and tuning out irrelevant data. According to the authors, ” they may be sacrificing performance on the primary task to let in other sources of information.”
- Being addicted to mobile devices is also correlated with reduced academic performance. “When a student’s attention is distracted—for example, by texting with friends while taking notes in class—the student may not properly mentally encode what the teacher has said. As a result, the student would have greater difficulty retrieving the memory on a test.”
- Addiction to mobile devices also leads to lower levels of empathy and increasingly narcissistic behavior. According to the comprehensive study by Common Sense Media entitled “Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy, and Finding the Balance”, “Empathy may develop in the context of the many cues we get during face-to-face communication Additionally, online environments that allow anonymity may make it easier for individuals to ignore others’ feelings and thus be more aggressive or insensitive than they would be in person.”
- Those suffering from any kind of addiction are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. People that are addicted to mobile devices demonstrate are no exception. Texting and driving, for example, is considered by some experts to be more dangerous than drunk driving. Sexting and other forms of digital messaging and social media posting are far more public than those engaging in these actions are aware. The social and emotional repercussions are potentially quite severe for those who underestimate the risk.
Family Conflicts and Mobile Devices
Family conflict is another negative effect. Parents and children often argue over the use of mobile devices. Each sees the negative effects of excessive use in the other. Yet awareness does not seem to change behavior. Rather, most people claim that they are “multi-tasking” when using their mobile devices.
Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology and author of the book iDisorder, argues that cellphones place a barrier between social interactions that cannot be mitigated by claims of “multitasking.” You might get the words, but you’re not getting the context, the emotions, and the feelings,” he says. “You’re not really paying attention. The same thing happens in the family. I see these devices as being very divisive to the family unless we set very clear guidelines about when they are acceptable and when they are not.”
According to Common Sense Media, “In an environment where people are frequently using and checking devices, research has pointed to conflicts that arise in families when people are distracted by media and technology use.”
How to Deal With Being Addicted to Mobile Devices
Whether it is you or a family member or friend that suffers from mobile device addiction, you can do some things to mitigate the potential damage.
- Most importantly, set time aside to be without your mobile devices and prioritize this time. Do not try to go “cold turkey” for an extended period of time. But do build in time away from the screens every day. As Rosen explains, “Our brain is at a constant, high-activation level and we need time to let it mellow, rest and reset, so then we can better process the information.”
- Set and keep restrictions on where you use your smartphone or mobile device. For example, you can make the bathroom off limits or commit to never text while driving in the car. Janis Elspas, founder of Mommy Blog Expert, does not allow mobile devices at the dinner table for any reason.
“This rule also applies to the kids’ friends who might be sitting at the table with us,” said Elspas of Los Angeles. “Sometimes they are shocked when I reprimand them for bringing their phone out and if there’s a notification or it rings, I ask them to turn off their device.”
Psychologist Teitelbaum recommends that parents set and enforce parameters for mobile device usage for their children. “You do your homework up until X amount of time, and then at that time you can have an hour to go to your video games or whatever else you want to be doing.”
- Simply restricting usage is not enough. Parents also must talk to their children about appropriate use of mobile devices and social media. Restriction without discussion will not work when dealing with any addictive behavior.
- Parents also need to role model for their children. As Homayoun observes, “The 2015 Pew survey found that 46 percent of American adults believed they could not live without their smartphones. Teens aren’t the only ones we need to worry about when it comes to smartphone addiction — adults should consider their habits as well.”
No Easy Answers for Those Addicted to Mobile Devices
Mobile devices are engrained in our daily lives. Yes, we need to take steps to moderate the negative impacts. But we also need to be prepared for failures along the way. We are not going to solve the problem. Our best hope is rather to try to minimize the negative consequences.
Consider some of the results of “The World Unplugged” study.
- More than half of the participants failed to make it through 24 hours.
- Experts might be concerned about the effects on young people of being addicted to mobile devices. Yet, most students feel that they have no choice but to use these technologies. “Not only did students feel that avoiding media forced them to miss out on social activities, but schoolwork as well. Students said that they had to complete homework and communicate with their professors through various types of media.”
- According to the study’s primary architect Professor Susan Mueller, many of the students in the study, “employed the rhetoric of addiction, dependency, and depression” when reflecting upon their participation.
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Authors Note: I checked my phone at least 100 times while writing this post.
- Research Links: USA Today, Common Sense Media, Independent, New York Times, Pew Center, A World Unplugged, Computer World, Psychology Today, Common Sense Media Full Report
- Image Links: Pew Center, NJ 101.5, Common Sense Media, Digital Parenting, Psychology Today, Pulptastic
- Video Link: Do you have it under control?