New studies show just how addictive smartphones can be

These days, it seems like our mental status quo is a distraction. Think back to the last time you had dinner at your favorite restaurant. My guess is that if you were paying attention, you’d have noticed that at least a handful of folks were checking their smartphones between bites. New studies on the smartphone phenomenon indicate that this isn’t just rude behavior towards your dinner guest – it could be an addiction.

We live in a hyper-digital age. The explosion of smartphones has provided people with the ability to access the entirety of the Internet on-the-go and at any given moment. Statistics show that 90% of adults in America today own a cell phone. In essence, most of us carry a mini-computer with us everywhere we go. While this may not be a problem for many people, some individuals are at risk for developing a full-blown addiction to their mobile devices.

Why are smartphones so addictive? The answer lies in their broad capabilities and their frequent upgrades. Think about everything your smartphone can do. That device in your pocket has succeeded in bringing together every element of modern mass media: telephone, texting, the internet, video, music, social media, video games, even voice-activated artificial intelligence. Couple that with continual upgrades to make your smartphone smarter, and you have a recipe for constant cell checks.

This is by no means happenstance. Technology companies have made their living by designing platforms, apps and games to keep folks hooked. And we as consumers eat it up. (Anyone else drumming their fingers for the iPhone 8?) Smartphones let us fill every waking moment with some sort of stimulus; they have eliminated the boredom of solitude and replaced it with an insatiable need for instant gratification.

Sound dramatic? Maybe. But numbers typically don’t lie. According to a recent study, nearly half of American adults say they could not live without their smartphones. A 2016 study of about 2000 people over the age of 12 found that about 75% owned a smartphone. Another study turned the lens towards use among young adults. The findings – young adults on average used their smartphones more than 80 (that’s right, eight-zero) times a day.

You’re probably wondering what the harm factor is here — aside from being rude to dinner companions. After all, we’re not talking about drinking and driving or blowing an entire paycheck at the casino. Sure, cellphone addiction doesn’t seem to carry the same level of harm as other dependencies, but can have an impact on how we are in the world.

Researchers on the dynamic between technology and users’ psychological health believe that smartphones have made it harder for us to connect with each other, or even to be at peace when we’re alone. In one study, participants were required to sit alone without a smartphone for 15 minutes, or to give themselves an electric shock to get their phone back sooner. Many chose to give themselves the painful shock to escape the boredom.

So is cellphone addiction worth worrying about? You be the judge. While our constant spike into the virtual world may seem to be the new norm, it may also come with psychological consequences. As always in life, being mindful of how much we’re using anything as an escape or distraction is key.

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