Smartphone Affection or Addiction?
Terry Braverman and Company

Smartphone Affection or Addiction?


QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “At one time, I hated the iPhone – but that was only before I used one for the first time.” – Chris Pirillo




Last night I caught a tech report on the evening news about Smartphone use. A survey taken at USC (University of Southern California) found that female students are engrossed in their Smartphones a whopping average of 10 hours per day; male students, 8 hours per day. When asked if they considered themselves addicted to their phones, 80% agreed, admitting it emphatically like members of an Alcoholics Anonymous support group.


As a writer and one who fervently observes social behavior in public settings, I can’t help but notice what happens when groups of young people congregate in a coffee shop, a nightclub, even on a park bench. It’s as if they agree to congregate for the purpose of keeping company while each is self-absorbed with their phones. And it’s not like an “excuse me, I need a moment to check for messages,” it often lasts for a lengthy duration that consumes the lion’s share of time spent with their friends sitting across from them. This is not just a random occurrence.


Smartphone use can get very heavy with other demographic groups. In a study of 1,600 managers and professionals, Leslie Perlow, PhD, the Matsushita professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School, found that:


  • 79% of smartphones users grab their phones within 15 minutes of waking up;
  • 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep
  • 48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights
  • 51% check continuously during vacation
  • 44% said they would experience "a great deal of anxiety" if they lost their phone and couldn't replace it for a week.


As telling as those numbers are, they seem outdated. WebMD writer Susan Davis confesses, “I check my smartphone compulsively. And the more I use it, the more often the urge to look at it hits me - in the Orthodontist's office, walking my kids to school, in meetings, even while making breakfast. Sometimes it is in my hand before I even know what I'm searching for. Sometimes I tap the screen absent mindedly, looking at my email, a local blogger, my calendar, and Twitter.”


The all-consuming preoccupation begs the question - why? When I notice people having the need to text while they're driving a car or riding a bicycle, they obviously know that they're putting their well-being and that of others in peril. We really have to explore what is so compelling about this medium to engage in life-endangering conduct.


"A true addiction entails a growing tolerance to a substance so you need more to get ‘high,’ uncomfortable symptoms during withdrawal, and a harmful impact on your life,” says David Greenfield, PhD, a psychologist and author of Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyber Freaks, and Those Who Love Them. “Computer technologies can be addictive, he says, because they're ‘psychoactive.’ That is, they alter mood and often trigger enjoyable feelings.”


These technologies have spawned a growing niche along with new jargon in the clinical setting. “Email, in particular, gives us satisfaction due to what psychologists call ‘variable ratio reinforcement.’ That is, we never know when we'll get a satisfying email, so we keep checking, over and over again. It's like slot machines…We're seeking that pleasurable hit." Smartphones, of course, motivate us to seek additional social “placebos” (texts, selfies, videos, Twitter feeds, and news updates, in addition to email) anytime and anywhere.


Is such behavior healthy? Does spending a big chunk of time immersed in a virtual environment significantly compromise real time connection to the physical world, rendering it as peripheral? Does a technology designed to simplify our lives and enhance our people connections lead to an erosion of in-person social interactions and skills?


Writer Sarah Coppler still wrestles with the dilemma: “About six months (ago) I switched from a smartphone to a basic cell phone service plan. I sold my Android through EBay and thought I would never look back. I was a smartphone addict! All day, from the time I woke and to the time I went asleep, my smartphone was within an arm’s reach. Each time it dinged I felt compelled to check the new message and then lingered to view more by clicking on the various apps. I found myself not seeing anything around me but what was on my tiny handheld screen. Lately, I have been getting a hankering for a smartphone, thinking that having easy access on Wi-Fi spots throughout the city would be nice. But, I’m concerned if I get one. Will it take me back down that slippery slope and the world will become again the size of my palm?”







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