Are we addicted to our phones ?

Are we addicted to our phones ?

Have a look at any social event these days and you will see the accepted norm – everyone around the table is either talking on their cell phone, holding their cell phones or has their cell phone within easy arm reach. As soon as the phone starts to vibrate or the new message indicator light starts flashing a built in instinct overpowers us and we have to reach for that phone. No matter what we are busy with, the phone takes priority. It has become subconscious move. So are we addicted to our phones ?

Leslie Perlow, PhD, professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School  conducted a survey amongst 1600 managers and professionals and found that:

  • 70% said they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
  • 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep.
  • 48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • 51% check continuously during vacation.
  • 44% said they would experience “a great deal of anxiety” if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week.

Basically, it seems like our lives are very much like this video:


The Imagined Ring

If you have grabbed your phone out of your pocket or out of your bag thinking that it just rang or vibrated only to find that it didn’t, then you are perfectly normal. According to a study 80% of us who do this regularly. We are so used to interacting with our phone and hate missing calls or messages that our brain has to make a perceptual judgment about whether phone is really vibrating or not. Since we would rather not miss the call or incoming message,  our brain sometimes gives us a false-positive message so we over-check our phone.

We simply cannot miss anything. 

Our mobile phones is our drug of choice

The word addicted is rather strong. People are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Are we addicted to our phone or do we just overuse it ?

Whilst researching this topic, I came across David Greenfield’s book Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyber Freaks, and Those Who Love Them (Amazon).  David states that “a true addiction entails a growing tolerance to a substance (eg drugs or alcohol) so you need more to get “high” with uncomfortable symptoms during withdrawal, and a harmful impact on your life”. David goes on to say that technologies can be addictive “because they’re “psychoactive” they alter mood and often trigger enjoyable feelings.” 

In other words, we like the feeling of getting satisfying phone calls, great emails, replies to our tweets and constant notifications and so we keep checking our devices to get more of those messages. We like the positive reinforcement we get with positive comments on our pics and so we upload more. And tweet more. And email more. So we can check for replies more.

Our phone is the gateway to achieve that psychoactive high so when we have a non working phone, we feel left out. When we don’t get a reply we feel ignored. As soon as we do get that reply, we are back to the “high” state. And we want more.

Enough is Enough

So how do you break this habit ? Here are some tips to regain control over the tech.

1. No Dinner Phone – start simple: Don’t put the phone on the dinner table.  We all tell ourselves that we need the phone “in case of emergency like baby sitter calls” but realistically checking Twitter does not count as an emergency. Talk to the people around you. If they are on their phone ask them nicely to put it down. If someone call you whilst midsentence, ignore the call. You are in the middle of a conversation its just rude to the people you are with to stop and talk to someone else who is clearly more important.

2. See with your eyes – we are so busy trying to photograph everything that we just see everything though the screen instead of just looking up and seeing the sights. Its ok to just tell people what you saw instead of whipping out the phone and firing up Instagram. When you describe the sight you relive it.

3. Less is More – Apps are driving us insane. They constantly send “push notifications” to wake up the phone and remind us that they are there. We don’t need to constantly know about updates to Subway Surfers and do we really need to know that so-and-so is now following so-and-so on Twitter ? We use around 10 apps so uninstall those other apps that you don’t use and just irritate you with pointless messaging.

4. Timing  – checking the phone just before going to be bed or in the middle of the night on route to the bathroom, just increases anxiety. If you receive a work-related message at 23:48, you tell yourself that you will deal with it in the morning, but inevitably, it plays on your mind and you struggle to switch off and go to bed. The phone is not the last thing you should be kissing goodnight before falling asleep. Using the phone as the alarm clock is fine, but avoid checking your messages just as you wake up. Ease into the day.

5. Search later – in the past we had conversations where we didn’t know all the fact and figures to everything. And it was ok. We survived. Now it seems like you cant have a conversation without someone whipping out the phone to “just Google it quickly”. Not everything needs to be searched for instantly. Unless its essential to the conversation, talk now, search later.

Of course these are just basic suggestions and by no means a  diagnosis to a serious addiction problem (for that seek proper counselling). We need to break the dependency habit – its ok to leave the phone on the desk whilst stepping away for 3 minutes to make a cup of coffee. Now with waterproof phones, I fear that its just a matter of time before we start hearing water gushing as people start answering their phone whilst showering.

Just don’t do it.



*image from

Liron Segev - TheTechieGuy

Liron Segev is an award-winning blogger, YouTube strategist and Podcast. He helps brands tell their stories in an engaging and real way that regular consumers can relate to. He also drinks too much coffee!

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