I forgot my mobile yesterday. I realised it was gone (gone = sitting on the kitchen bench at home) at 7 am, only to be reunited with it at 8 pm when I got home. Can you imagine the horror? I say that with tongue in cheek, but honestly, there was a panic-stricken adrenaline rush on first realising it wasn’t where it should be. How was I going to get through the day? (How was I going to get through the train journey without Spotify?!)
It got me thinking about the recent news stories about our society being addicted to tech. I have written before about the need to constantly be connected to the internet, but is it our devices that actually keep us coming back for more?
Do you feel weird waiting at the bus stop without a phone to look at? How about checking your phone at the same time as watching TV, or even worse, while you’re at the dinner table with your family?
Mobile phones have sort of become a modern-day comfort blanket. Whenever we start to feel even slightly awkward in a given situation, we can be safe in the knowledge that our phone will give us a brief distraction from reality.
So what? You might say. Why not just embrace technology and the positive things that it brings to all our lives? As app developers, we love creating mobile products that people will download, and engage with again and again. We want to solve problems for people, not create them.
There’s no doubt we are part of the mobile generation but are we really addicted to tech? Addiction is a strong word. According to the World Health Organisation, a person is addicted when they have a “physical and behavioural dependence on a substance”. There are wider behavioural addictions, such as gambling or sex addiction, that can also cause harm to mental health, as well as relationship problems with friends, family and colleagues. Our brains get reprogrammed through continuous repetition of a particular action; we get so used to doing the same thing over and over again, that we don’t get any reward from it, and don’t realise our dependence on it.
The average smartphone user checks their phone 85 times per day. That seems like a lot, sure, but smartphone use hasn’t caused any outbreaks of severe mental dysfunction. Not yet anyway. So maybe the majority of us are just a little obsessed, not full-blown addicted.
The same might not be said about the small number of people that are naturally at a higher risk of becoming fixated on a particular activity. Results of recent studies in Switzerland have shown that people under the age of 18 are more at risk of addictive-like behaviours around their smartphone use.
When you consider that nearly half of parents think that their kids are addicted to their screens, doesn’t it make you stop and consider what the future holds for young people that can’t interact with the world without doing it through a device? People who get their peers’ affirmation and acceptance in the form of social media likes and emojis.
Ex-employees of Facebook and Google and even current Apple investors have recently urged smartphone manufacturers to help in the fight against smartphone addiction among children and to give more consideration to the mental health implications of their products.
If we, as adults, find it difficult to tear ourselves away from the screen, how do we expect more vulnerable sections of society to do the same? Maybe it’s time for a digital detox. Here are some tips for reducing your screen time:
- Separate yourself from your phone every now and then. Maybe create a no phone zone in your house.
- If you recognise that there are certain apps that drag you back every time, remove them from your phone.
- Reduce the number of notifications you get…do you really need to know about everything instantly?
- Don’t put your phone next to your bed when you sleep, it’s bound to be the first thing you do in the morning.
- Change your screen colour to greyscale (particularly good for Facebook and Instagram fiends!)
It’s as simple as just not looking at your phone…but can you do it? I survived yesterday. Every time I reached for my phone to check the calendar, refer to a recent email, or message someone, I just couldn’t do it. Turns out none of it was that urgent anyway.
Let us know if you can go phone-free!