Technology can offer many wonderful time saving benefits that can make daily life less stressful and more enjoyable. However, it’s easy to become so overly dependent on the use of technology that the tools we use to save time actually begin to consume too much of it.
Of all the different types of portable technology on the market, smartphones have had by far the most significant impact on people’s lives. Forty-six percent of all adults in the U.S. now own a smartphone, a 25 percent increase from 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.
It’s not uncommon for a smart phone users to eat, sleep, and even go to the bathroom with their smartphone in hand, especially when used for work. In a recent survey conducted by the Harvard Business School of 1,600 professionals found that:
- 70 percent of those surveyed check their smartphone within an hour of getting up in the morning
- 56 percent check it within an hour of going to bed
- 48 percent check their smartphones over the weekend
- 51 percent continuously check their phone while on vacation
- 44 percent admitted they would feel anxious or panicked if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week
Add in the use of smartphones to play games, watch videos, send emails, or surf the web, and it’s easy to see why researchers have begun to wonder if American society has become addicted to its smartphones.
Dedicated or Addicted
While the term addiction may seem extreme to describe smartphone usage, researchers point out that studies have shown people can become hooked on using the Internet and certain types of computers, mostly for gaming. Even though a traditional addiction generally means a person has slowly built up a tolerance to a substance whose effects they become dependant on, computer technology can provide psychoactive effects that alter mood and trigger positive sensations.
Researchers compare the stimulation people receive from using their smartphones to what gamblers receive from playing slot machines. Videos, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, emails, and news feeds all provide the mind constant stimulation due to what psychologists refer to as “variable ratio reinforcement.” Just like a gambler never knows when they’ll hit on a slot machine, smartphone users continuously check their phones looking for new Tweets, updates, emails, and other forms of stimulation.
A study published last year found that people are less addicted to their smartphones then they are addicted their habit of frequently checking their phone throughout the day. The study determined that factors such as boredom or being in school or a meeting contributed heavily to triggering a person’s desire to check their smartphone. According to researchers, the average smartphone user checks their phone around 35 times a day, for roughly 30 seconds at a time. When they receive positive feedback, such as a new email or Tweet, they will begin checking it more often.
Giving up using your smartphone entirely probably doesn’t sound that like appealing or practical of an idea. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help control the amount of time you spend using your phone.
- Stay conscious of situations or emotional states you find yourself in that make you want pull out the phone. Do you reach for the smartphone when bored, lonely, or anxious? Determining when you’re most likely to use your phone will help you become aware of what triggers usage, so you can begin to look for alternative forms of stimulation when in those situations.
- Stay strong when you hear ring tone alerts that let you know you’ve received a new Facebook post, email, or text. While the compulsion might seem strong to immediately check your phone to see Aunt Barb’s latest post about her cat, you don’t always need to post how cute Mittens looks immediately.
- Stay disciplined about the times of day and places where you’re willing to check the phone. Create a few personal rules about when you won’t check your phone, such as when driving, spending time with your kids, or during certain hours of the day, and do your best about sticking to those times.
Timothy Lemke blogs about health topics for Dr. Jacob Morrow, a dentist in Portland at Mt. Tabor Dental.