Addicted to Your Smartphone? Here's What to Do
Why smartphones hook us in, plus tips on reclaiming your time and concentration.
Hook or Habit? continued...
That really depends on whether it's disrupting your work or family life, Greenfield says.
Such a disruption could be small -- like ignoring your friend over lunch to post a Facebook status about how much you're enjoying lunch with your friend.
Or it could be big -- like tuning out an distressed spouse or colleagues in a meeting to check email, or feeling increasingly stressed by the fact that everyone else seems to be on call 24/7, so we perhaps we should be, too.
Other researchers are seeing clear signs of dysfunction, if not an "addiction."
According to a 2011 study published in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, people aren't addicted to smartphones themselves as much as they are addicted to "checking habits" that develop with phone use -- including repeatedly (and very quickly) checking for news updates, emails, or social media connections.
That study found that certain environmental triggers -- like being bored or listening to a lecture -- trigger the habits. And while the average user checks his or her smartphone 35 times a day -- for about 30 seconds each time, when the information rewards are greater (e.g., having contact info linked to the contact's whereabouts), users check even more often.
The Interrupted Life
Besides creating a compulsion, smartphones pose other dangers to our mental life, says Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
"The smartphone, through its small size, ease of use, proliferation of free or cheap apps, and constant connectivity, changes our relationship with computers in a way that goes well beyond what we experienced with laptops," he says. That's because people keep their smartphones near them "from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed, and throughout that time the devices provide an almost continuous stream of messages and alerts as well as easy access to a myriad of compelling information sources.
"By design," he says, "it's an environment of almost constant interruptions and distractions. The smartphone, more than any other gadget, steals from us the opportunity to maintain our attention, to engage in contemplation and reflection, or even to be alone with our thoughts."
Carr, who writes extensively in The Shallows about the way that computer technology in general may be diminishing our ability to concentrate and think deeply, does not have a smartphone.
"One thing my research made clear is that human beings have a deep, primitive desire to know everything that's going on around them," he says.
"That instinct probably helped us survive when we were cavemen and cavewomen. I'm sure one of the main reasons people tend to be so compulsive in their use of smartphones is that they can't stand the idea that there may be a new bit of information out there that they haven't seen. I know that I'm not strong enough to resist that temptation, so I've decided to shun the device altogether."