Terrance Heath

Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?

Filed By Terrance Heath | August 11, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: addiction and recovery, ADHD, iPhone, phone addiction, smartphone

Guess which answer I chose.

No, really. It’s a serious question. Serious enough to be studied.

AddictedBritons’ appetite for Facebook and social networks on the go is driving a huge demand for smartphones - with 60% of teenagers describing themselves as “highly addicted” to their device - according to new research by the media regulator, Ofcom.

Almost half of teenagers and more than a quarter of adults now own a smartphone, with most using their iPhone or BlackBerry to browse Facebook and email.

The study, published on Thursday, also shows that smartphones have begun to intrude on our most private moments, with 47% of teenagers admitting to using their device in the toilet. Only 22% of adults confessed to the same habit. Unsurprisingly, mobile-addicted teens are more likely than adults to be distracted by their phones over dinner and in the cinema - and more would answer their phone if it woke them up.

I know how this is going to sound coming from someone with my history, but I don’t think I’m addicted to my iPhone.

Well, I’m not addicted to using it to check Facebook and Twitter, which the article indicates is driving “smartphone addiction” in Briton. Same goes for email. I’m not one of those people who constantly checks email via their smartphone.

iPhone addictThere I was at a long-awaited dinner with friends Saturday night, when in the midst of our chatting, I watched my right hand sneaking away from my side to grab my phone sitting on the table to check my e-mail.

“What am I doing?” I thought to myself. “I’m here with my friends, and I don’t need to be checking e-mail on a Saturday night.”

The part that freaked me out was that I hadn’t told my hand to reach out for the phone. It seemed to be doing it all on its own. I wondered what was wrong with me until I read a recent study in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing that showed I’m hardly alone. In fact, my problem seems to be ubiquitous.

The authors found smartphone users have developed what they call “checking habits” — repetitive checks of e-mail and other applications such as Facebook. The checks typically lasted less than 30 seconds and were often done within 10 minutes of each other.

On average, the study subjects checked their phones 34 times a day, not necessarily because they really needed to check them that many times, but because it had become a habit or compulsion.

If I’m commuting to or from work, I might be using my iPhone to read items that I save to Instapaper or Read It Later, since my morning and evening commutes are about the only uninterrupted reading time I have before 9:00 p.m. on week days. (These days, I’m more likely to be reading stuff on my Kindle that I’ve sent to Instapaper or Readability.) If I’m not reading something on my iPhone, and I’m commuting, I probably have my earbuds in while I’m playing a game to pass the time. (It’s more fun than listening to the noises of the train, or the conversationsof my fellow commuters.) If I think of something I want to look up on Google, I’ll use the iPhone as a kind of instant reference. I might also use it to read Google News, to catch up on reading non-work-related news.

Basically, I use my iPhone as a way to “fit in” certain things that I otherwise wouldn’t have time for. The technology allows me to do certain things “on the go,” that would have required more dedicated time that I don’t really have to spare. So, it fills the little spaces of time and allows me to get to things I just wouldn’t otherwise.

OK. My phone does indeed go everywhere with me. Yes. Everywhere. There are a couple of exceptions. One of them is family dinner. Plus, if I’m engaged in something on my phone, and my husband or one of the kids is talkign to me, the put the phone to sleep, put it away, and give them my complete attention. (Or as close I can to my full attention, given my ADD.) Likewise if I’m on the computer, I turn away from computer so they know I’m at least making an effort to listen, and give them my attention.

But beyond that, it goes everywhere with me. Before I go to bed, I might be reading something, playing a game, or looking something up. When I go to sleep, the iPhone goes into an iHome alarm clock that has a handing charging dock. And I grab it first thing in the morning, after I’m dressed, and ready to wake Parker up and get him fed, dressed, ect., and out the door.

So, while I use my iPhone alot, I can’t say I suffer any of the symtoms of a “habitual checker.”

How to know if you’re a habitual checker

1. You check your e-mail more than you need to.

Sometimes you’re in the middle of an intense project at work and you really do need to check your e-mail constantly. But be honest with yourself — if that’s not the case, your constant checking might be a habit, not a conscious choice.

2. You’re annoying other people.

If, like Frank, you’re ticking off the people closest to you, it’s time to take a look at your smartphone habits.

“If you hear ‘put the phone away’ more than once a day, you probably have a problem,” says Lisa Merlo, a psychologist at the University of Florida.

3. The thought of not checking makes you break out in a cold sweat.

Try this experiment: Put your phone away for an hour. If you get itchy during that time, you might be a habitual checker.

1. Like I said, I don’t use it to check email all that much, unless there’s a reason I need to check in with my work email before I get to the office or after I leave. Usually, if I’m checking email, I’m sitting in front of a computer.

2. As far as I know, I haven’t been annoying people. Not the people closest to me, because I put the phone away when I’m interacting with them. There have been a couple of times when I’ve gotten a “look” for slipping it out during a meeting at work. But, given my ADD, even without the smartphone no meeting longer than 30 minutes is going to hold my attention. (Maybe close to 20 minutes, actually.) Take away my phone, and I’ll just sit there and daydream.

3. The thought of not checking my phone doesn’t freak me out. It might annoy me a little, like an all day retreat where the rule is “no laptops/smartphones” during group activities, but I’m not going to break out in a cold sweat.

I fact, I can put the phone away for a whole hour without getting “itchy.” I have, actually. If I’m at a social event, or a movie, etc., I won’t check it at all. When I’m with the kids, I can easily go an hour without checking it. They usually keep me busy enough that I don’t have time to think about it much. Likewise, if we’re doing something together as a family.

So, am I addicted to my smartphone? I don’t think so. I can put it away anytime I want to.

It’s just that sometimes I dont’ want to.

(Crossposted at RepublicOfT. Images via Flickr.)


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This is part of the reason why I am a late adopter for smartphones. I know how much I love the internet too well.

The other parts are that they're pricey and I'm lazy.

I have several friends who are addicted to their smart phones and without fail, they were addicted to their previous, non-smart phones as well. I've actually been yelled at by some of these people for not upgrading to a smart phone when I replaced my old Samsung this past spring but my logic is simple to comprehend even for them:

1)It's a phone. I have no desire to watch tv on a postage stamp sized screen.

2) It's a phone. Even texting is a pain in the ass because people assume that you're constantly at their beck and call. The phone is for MY convenience, not yours.

3) It's a phone. Damn near anyplace I go I have the potential to be connected to the world via the internet. Smart phone addicts may not believe it, but to me it's quite refreshing to NOT be tied up to the internet every moment of every day.

I realize that people who know me will probably find that last ironic as my computers generally always have social media and email clients running, but I can (and do) walk away from them often. It seems that smart phone junkies either can't or won't.

Texting is nice because you can get non-urgent info to a person without interrupting them. I never text someone a question, expecting them to send me the answer promptly.

I am told by my more well-traveled friends that in Europe, if you want to make an appointment, you send a text message requesting so. It has gotten so that requesting an appointment by voice-phone is often considered arrogant and rude. (Alex can tell me if I'm right about these things, since he has lived in France.)

Terrance, you need a third option. "I choose not to have a smart phone," or "I only have a stupid phone." We aren't all made o' money, you know. :D

Yeah, really! ... When I can afford an iPhone and cable TV, that will be the day I have more money than I know what to do with ... and if that means I will already have my retirement funded, hey, that day might be a few years off (and that's an under-statement, folks).

Jaime Dunaway Jaime Dunaway | August 11, 2011 4:01 PM

Mine is just a phone with an mp3 player that I never use. I've thought about a smartphone, but can't really justify it. If I'm not at home, then likely I'm at work and I don't have time to piddle around on a silly phone when there. And I'm not even addicted to the phone. If it rings, I might take a notion to answer it, although not often, lol. I don't even stress about it if I forget it at home when I go somewhere.

My cell phone costs $20/month at Virgin Mobile, one of their pay-as-you-go plans. It's all I really need.

I am not addicted to my phone. But I am addicted to Bilerico Project, and I'm getting addicted to Twitter if I'm not careful.

ALSO: Watching my Klout score is getting to feel like having $50 million invested in the stock market -- or what I imagine it to feel like, can't say I've ever had $50 million in the stock market ...

Honestly for someone like me, the smartphone has been awesome. It's not that I'm anti-social, but when my husband and I go out, crowds freak me out, so it's basically the only thing that keeps me sane enough to deal with everything. If I focus on the phone, I forget about my fears of large groups of people.

I can vet that for him. It takes the place of hiding behind a newspaper for some who need to get some space.

For me, it's a phone and a kind of emergency phone which I turn on when I need to connect out. I don't like be to be digitally leashed, but when I'm a passenger and waiting, it's like an advanced digital newspaper or chatroom with less screen but more search.

For work, it's the mobile help-desk and I'm one of many on a rotation. That allows me a little more multi-tasking.

And for many, it's an empowering tool for finding a relationship, either temporary or long term. The more connected we are, the less vulnerable we are individually. It's a synergy and safety net for many.

I really wish I could replace all these stupid dead-tree receipts I get from convenience stores with a text to my phone. You'd think this would be easy to resolve by now. It's not like a store has to send video.