At dinner with a friend last weekend, we lamented our husband’s incessant use of smartphones while “spending time” with our children. It turns out we are not alone. Smartphones are not just for work. They are for everything, all the time.

A Documented Phenomenon

According to a recent study by the UK-based Ofcoms, smartphone addiction is reaching epidemic proportions.  When asked about the use of their smartphone devices, 37 percent of adult participants admitted they were highly addicted to their devices.

Over half of adult respondents claimed they have used their smartphones will socializing with others, nearly a quarter have used them during mealtimes, and over a fifth used them while in the bathroom.

Another study originally published in the Journal of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing concurred that smartphones are taking over some people’s lives. The researchers identified what they call a “checking habit” – when you repetitively look at your device for 30 seconds or less and access a single application. Apparently, this is a habitual response to boredom, and/or the need for constant distraction. It is easy to see how an out-of-control checking habit could result in negative consequences ranging from a traffic accident to a strained relationship with a family member.

And How Does That Make You Feel?

David Greenfield, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the author of Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them (non-affiliate link).  In Susan Davis’ article for WebMD,Greenfield is quoted as saying that computer technologies can be addictive because they’re psychoactive, alter mood, and often trigger enjoyable feelings. E-mail in particular gives us satisfaction due to variable ratio reinforcement, meaning that we never know when we’ll get a great e-mail, so we keep checking over and over again.

So how do you avoid becoming a slave to your smartphone without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?  Here, some tips:

  • Don’t buy the Lexus of phones: There is no need to purchase the most feature-rich, complex device on the market just because it’s available. Select a phone that meets your needs and ignore the bells and whistles that will only serve to confuse you.
  •  Don’t go app crazy: The more apps, the slower your phone works, and the faster it runs out of battery. Constantly buzzing and beeping apps can also be distracting. The truth is, most people only use between 5-10 apps regularly. So stop the downloading madness.
  •  Leave the phone in another room: If you constantly have the urge to check your smartphone, leave it in another room so that you aren’t tempted to pick it up. This is especially useful if you have set aside time to do something away from your phone, like finish a report or play a game with your family.
  •  If you’re talking to someone, don’t answer it: Unless you are expecting an urgent call, do not allow your phone to interrupt an in-person conversation.  Sneaking peeks at your phone or typing away on it while someone is trying to command your attention will negatively impact your relationships and productivity.
(Photo credit: young businessman playing with his cell from Shutterstock)

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