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Addicted to Your Smartphone? Here's What to Do

Why smartphones hook us in, plus tips on reclaiming your time and concentration.
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The Interrupted Life continued...

"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."

Managing Your Smartphone Use

Can't give up your phone altogether? Experts suggest these steps to control your usage:

  • Be conscious of the situations and emotions that make you want to check your phone. Is it boredom? Loneliness? Anxiety? Maybe something else would soothe you.
  • Be strong when your phone beeps or rings. You don't always have to answer it. In fact, you can avoid temptation by turning off the alert signals.
  • Be disciplined about not using your device in certain situations (such as when you're with children, driving, or in a meeting) or at certain hours ( for instance, between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.). "You'll be surprised and pleased to rediscover the pleasures of being in control of your attention," Carr says.
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