Addicted to Your Smartphone?

Posted September 21, 2016

Smartphones are an integral part of life for millions of us, but there can be a downside. It’s not unusual for some people to compulsively check their phones countless times at work, while on vacation and even if they wake up at night. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that about half of U.S. smartphone owners check their devices multiple times every hour, and 11% said they need to check their phones every few minutes.

The appeal of these amazing phones is undeniable. They provide instant communication, connect you to the Internet, let you snap a selfie, help you with directions, play your favorite music and more.

But if you can’t fully focus on family life, leisure time or even the job at hand during work hours — and if you feel anxious when you aren’t staring at your device much of the time — you may need to stop and consider a healthier way to use your smartphone.

That’s the conclusion of James Roberts, PhD, a professor of marketing in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. After studying behavior addictions for more than a decade, he’s concluded many smartphone users are suffering from a new malady he dubs “cellularitis.”

According to Dr. Roberts, “it’s a socially transmitted disease (STD) that results in habitual use of one’s cell phone to the detriment of his or her psychological and physical health and well-being.”

Smartphone Addiction Symptoms

While the name he’s given the problem is clearly tongue-in-cheek, Dr. Roberts writes in his new book, Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?, that he’s serious about the addictiveness of smartphones.

Although addiction has been defined in many ways, it usually involves repeatedly using a substance or object despite the fact that it causes negative consequences. And over the years, Dr. Roberts notes, the concept of addiction has been expanded to encompass not just drug or alcohol problems but addictive behaviors involving gambling, sex, eating, exercise and, more recently, compulsive smartphone usage.

Addictive use of smartphones can have ramifications in all areas of your life, Dr. Roberts warns. Ironically, these high-tech devices that are designed for communication can actually prevent people from meaningful exchanges.

A study headed by Dr. Roberts, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, zeroed in on the act of phubbing, or phone snubbing, which describes ignoring your partner or friend in favor of your phone.

Roberts and colleagues surveyed more than 450 people and found that phubbing caused those being ignored by phone users to experience depression and feel less satisfied with life. The more partners were phubbed, the more conflict was felt in relationships.

“With smartphones we find less of a need to communicate face-to-face,” Dr. Roberts tells Synergy. “And that’s a pity because relationships based upon face-to-face contact are much stronger than ones based upon what we call computer-mediated communications.”

While there are no statistics available about how much uncontrolled smartphone use may interfere with productivity at work, Dr. Roberts suspects it is a serious problem.

“We have all seen colleagues totally oblivious to their work and surroundings, completely absorbed in the latest cat video on YouTube,” he says.

University of Missouri research found that people who feel tied to their iPhones (the type of smartphones used in the study) can suffer serious psychological and physiological effects when separated from their phones – including increased anxiety, higher blood pressure and faster heart rates.

How do you know if your frequent use of your smartphone is normal, has become a habit, or has moved into the worrisome zone of addiction?

“If you have tried to cut back and failed, you are likely addicted,” Dr. Roberts answers. “If your smartphone use causes conflict, you could be addicted. If your usage is continually escalating, you may be addicted. And if you have lost control of your smartphone use, you are addicted.”

He has developed an online quiz to help smartphone users measure their possible phone addiction.

Healthy, Not Addictive, Smartphone Use

Dr. Roberts emphasizes that taking healthy control of when and how much you use your smartphone is not an anti-technology stance.

“It’s all about finding your ‘digital sweet spot,’ that magical place where you are still plugged in but have carved out time for the things that really matter,” Dr. Roberts explains. “You, your relationships and community are the bedrocks of living a happy and meaningful life. They are also the first things that suffer when our lives get out of balance.”

Tips to control your smartphone so it doesn’t control you:

1. If you are driving, don’t use your smartphone. Dr. Roberts suggests you place your smartphone in the trunk of your car before you head out to avoid the temptation to talk or text while driving. “You’re dangerous when you are driving and on the phone – hands-free or not,” he says.

2. Establish smartphone-free times and places. Keeping smartphones out of the bedroom can help your relationship, and Dr. Roberts also urges making the dinner table a smartphone-free zone. Schedule 2 or 3 times during the day at work when you check your phone for messages. Stick to it and watch your productivity soar.

3. Set your phone to airplane mode. It allows you the safety of having your phone with you in case of an emergency but also lets you focus on the task at hand with no cellular interruptions.

4. Sign a contract. “Social contracts are a great way to change behaviors,” Dr. Roberts says. “Simply write a contract that states explicitly what is acceptable or unacceptable use of your smartphone and establish the punishment for unacceptable smartphone behavior. Enlist your spouse, significant other, and/or kids to be the enforcers. If your kids or spouse is like mine, they will not hesitate to let you know when you are breaking the rules and what the said punishment is for such behavior.”

5. Use a real alarm clock, not a smartphone, to wake up. You’ll avoid the temptation of starting the morning by looking at a video or chatting with a friend when you need to get going on your workday. Dr. Roberts advises not touching your smartphone until you are showered, dressed and have had your morning coffee.

6. Commit to healthy smartphone use. You can read suggestions and admit your smartphone is wasting too much of your time, but you’ll never curb your phone usage until you commit to changing your behavior. “Without such steely resolve you will be sucked into the digital vortex that has lured so many of us into an existence where leading a meaningful life has been replaced by the continual pursuit of momentary pleasures,” Dr. Roberts says. — Sherry Baker