What is smartphone addiction?
Although a smartphone, tablet or computer can be an extremely productive tool, the compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school and relationships. When you spend more time on social media or playing games than interacting with real people, or you can’t avoid checking text messages, emails or apps repeatedly, even when it has negative consequences on your life, it may be time to reevaluate your use of technology.
Smartphone addiction, sometimes known as “nomophobia” (fear of not having a cell phone), is usually caused by an Internet overuse problem or an Internet addiction disorder. After all, it is rarely the phone or the tablet that creates the restriction, but the games, applications and online worlds to which it connects us.
Smartphone addiction can include a variety of impulse control problems, including:
Virtual relationships Addiction to social media, dating apps, texting and messaging can spread to the point where online virtual friends become more important than real relationships. We’ve all seen couples sitting at a restaurant who ignore each other and get involved with their smartphones. While the Internet can be a great place to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, or even start romantic relationships, online relationships are not a healthy substitute for real-life interactions. Online friendships can be attractive because they tend to exist in a bubble, they are not subject to the same requirements or restrictions as cluttered relationships in the real world. Compulsive use of dating apps can focus on short-term connections, rather than developing long-term relationships.
Information overload. Compulsively browsing the web, watching videos, playing games or checking news can decrease productivity at work or school and keep you isolated for hours. Compulsive use of Internet applications and smartphones can make you neglect other aspects of your life, from real relationships to hobbies and social activities.
Addiction to cyber sex. Compulsive use of Internet pornography, sex, exchanging nudes or adult messages can have a negative impact on real intimate relationships and overall emotional health. While online pornography and cyber sex addiction are types of sexual addiction, the Internet makes them more accessible, relatively anonymous and very convenient. It is easy to spend hours indulging in impossible fantasies in real life. Excessive use of dating apps that facilitate casual sex can hinder the development of long-term intimate relationships or damage an existing relationship.
Online restrictions, such as gambling, gambling, stock trading, online shopping, or bidding on auction sites like eBay, can often lead to financial and commercial problems. While gambling addiction has been a well-documented problem for years, the availability of games on the Internet has made games much more accessible. Forced stock trading or online shopping can be equally damaging financially and socially. EBay addicts can wake up at odd times to go online during the last few minutes of an auction. You can buy things you don’t need and you can’t afford to make the winning bid.
Causes and effects of smartphone and Internet addiction
While you may experience impulse control issues on a laptop or desktop computer, the size and convenience of smartphones and tablets allows us to take them almost anywhere and meet our restrictions around the clock. In fact, most of us are rarely more than five feet from our smartphones. Like the use of drugs and alcohol, they can trigger the release of chemical dopamine from the brain and change your mood. You can also quickly increase tolerance, taking more and more time in front of these screens to get the same reward.
Heavy smartphone use can often be symptomatic of other underlying problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression or loneliness. At the same time, it can also make these problems worse. If you use your smartphone as a “security blanket” to relieve feelings of anxiety, loneliness or discomfort in social situations, for example, you will only be able to isolate yourself from the people around you. Looking at your phone will prevent you from interacting face to face, which can help you connect significantly with other people, relieve anxiety and improve your mood. In other words, the medicine you choose for your anxiety (interacting with your smartphone) actually worsens your anxiety.
Dependence on a smartphone or the Internet can also harm your life by:
- Greater loneliness and depression. While it seems that temporarily losing yourself online evaporates feelings like loneliness, depression and boredom, it can actually make you feel worse. A 2014 study found a correlation between heavy use of social media and depression and anxiety. Users, especially teenagers, tend to compare unfavorably to their peers on social media, which promotes feelings of loneliness and depression.
- Feed the anxiety. One researcher found that just having a phone at the workplace tends to make people more anxious and perform certain tasks poorly. The more people use the phone, the greater the anxiety.
- Increased stress. Using a smartphone for work often means that work is bleeding to death in your home and personal life. You feel the pressure of being always on, never disconnected from work. This need to constantly check and respond to emails can help to increase stress levels and even burnout.
- Exacerbating attention deficit disorder. The constant flow of messages and information from a smartphone can overwhelm the brain and make it impossible to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes without feeling compelled to move on.
- Decrease your ability to focus and think deeply or creatively. The persistent hum, hiss or beep of your smartphone can distract you from important tasks, slow down your work and interrupt the moments of silence that are crucial for creativity and problem solving. Instead of being alone with our thoughts, we are now always online and connected.
- Disturb your sleep. Excessive smartphone use can disrupt your sleep, which can have a serious impact on your overall mental health. This can affect your memory, affect your ability to think clearly, and reduce your cognitive and learning skills.
- Encourage self-absorption. A British study found that people who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to have negative personality traits like narcissism. Taking endless selfies, posting all your thoughts or details of your life can create unhealthy self-centeredness, distance yourself from real-life relationships and make stress management difficult.
Smartphone addiction signs and symptoms
There is no specific time spent on the phone, nor how often you check for updates, nor the number of messages sent or received that indicate a dependency or overuse problem.
Spending too much time on the phone becomes a problem only if it consumes so much time that it neglects your personal relationships, your work, your studies, your hobbies, or other important things in your life. If you’re ignoring your friends over lunch to read Facebook updates or compulsively record your phone while driving or during classes, it’s time to re-evaluate your smartphone use and find a healthier balance in your life.
Warning signs of excessive smartphone or Internet use include:
Problems performing tasks at work or at home. Find stacked clothes and little food around the house for dinner because you are busy talking, texting or playing video games? You may find yourself working later because you cannot finish your job on time.