Smartphone Addiction and How It Affects Your Relationships

After spending years tinkering with cheap Android phones, I recently made a bold move to switch to the iOS ecosystem. I’m a middle-class citizen who has lived a completely frugal life, so I consider my iPhone a luxury. For the most part, I’m happy with my choice. Gone are the sleepless nights I used to spend tweaking my Android phones just to make them look and feel premium. I now have the perfect gadget a technophile could ask for. The only problem is that buying it cost me almost my entire savings, and it’s not even the fanciest iPhone around.

I can’t believe my girlfriend was patient enough to deal with my complaints. Before buying my iPhone, I whined constantly about not owning one and how it would surely complete my ideal gadget setup. After I made the purchase, however, all that’s left was guilt. It wasn’t even remorse; I loved the phone. It was definitely the guilt of rushing in and carelessly spending most of my money on a slab of technology. I was reckless and I should’ve listened to her. I should’ve built my savings first before buying an expensive, dispensable gadget. I’m sure this guilt will haunt me ‘til the day I die (or maybe I’m exaggerating, but you get the point).

I was already deep into my smartphone obsession when I realized I had it. You probably don’t consider yourself hooked and thus think of me as a total sucker, but let me try to convince you otherwise.

What’s in a Smartphone, Anyway?

But why switch to an iPhone, of all phones? is probably the question you’re asking right now. I could’ve chosen a more premium Android device for a lesser price. And, you’re right, nothing I say will justify my decision. I just instantly fell in love with the iOS interface after seeing it in a Mac Store once. I was mesmerized by the smooth transitions as I swiped left and right on the home screen. The whole thing’s just pleasant and relaxing to look at. I’m sure the best Android phones can be as smooth as an iPhone, but again, my track record with Android devices isn’t that good.

Unsplash - Saulo Mohana
Photo by Saulo Mohana from Unsplash

But enough of me. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if it’s an iPhone or an Android. There’s a reason you chose the smartphone you have. A gigantic screen, killer gaming specs, a high-grade camera, resistance to water and dust, extensive app selection — the list goes on. Smartphones are simply amazing in every way possible. There’s just one caveat: Without you realizing it, these devices can possess you little by little. Eventually, you’ll start to feel like you can’t go on for a day without checking your phone every goddamn minute. That high-pitched ping from your Facebook notifications will be your new high, and you’ll be craving it like a madman.

Speaking of Facebook, you probably bought a smartphone for the social media apps. Too afraid to miss out on the latest trends and happenings, perhaps? Admit it or not, you care about how people see you on social media. There must be a reason why we millennials in general collectively check our phones 8 billion times a day. We fiddle with our smartphones when we’re bored, hungry, or alone. We play mobile games to escape the mundane. We own smartphones because they’re the ultimate status symbol.

Smartphones have everything we millennials want and need. It’s impossible to exist without them. I can’t hammer this point any further.

Can You Actually Get Addicted to Your Phone?

Wait, I hear you say. How does this all apply to me? I have a smartphone, but I don’t sniff it every five minutes just to get high. While, yes, that is a fair point, I’d say you don’t quite grasp what smartphone addiction actually is. Most people don’t treat this type of problem seriously. There are far more lethal addictions out there that deserve attention, and I’m not trying to lump smartphone addiction to drug-and-sex-related ones just to sound cool or victim-y. What I’m trying to say is that it does exist, although you probably don’t experience it. Just ask the experts.

As Dr. Mark Griffith, Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit, said about the legitimacy of smartphone addiction, “Although people may be using their smartphones a lot, it’s generally life-enhancing. But there will always be a small minority, with any technological advancement, that do [sic] it to excess and it causes them problems. The good news is, particularly when it comes to smartphones, the genuine incidence of addiction is small.”

Unsplash - Angela Franklin
Photo by Angela Franklin from Unsplash

Dr. Larry Rosen, Professor Emeritus and Past Chair of the Psychology Department at California State University, offers a different approach. He said, “For most people, smartphones are more of an obsession than an addiction.” So, sure, you’re not addicted, but you may be obsessed with your smartphone — and that’s clearly not healthy. All our medical friends are trying to say is that smartphone addiction may not be pervasive, but it is the worst-case scenario technophiles like us could face. And that’s not what we want, is it?

How Do You Know When You’re Hooked?

When’s the last time you had a serious heart-to-heart and face-to-face talk with someone about life in general? Have you ever tried to invite your friends to physically hang out in one place without an active WiFi connection? When’s the last time you made something — a card, a makeshift necklace, or a handwritten letter — for your parents? If you can’t muster an answer to any of these questions and yet were able to update your Instagram app just a minute ago, then here’s an advice you’d be wise to take: Drop the goddamn phone for a while.

According to Dr. Griffith’s research, there are definite indicators that point to smartphone addiction. See if you can relate to the following statements. If at least six of them hit close to home, then you might be a little addicted to your smartphone.

  • I spend the majority of my day holding my phone to my face.
  • My smartphone is the center of my universe.
  • My phone diverts my attention from my studies/work/research/etc.
  • I have fought with my loved ones about the amount of time I spend using my phone.
  • I feel strong urges to touch and fiddle with my phone.
  • I often lie about how much time I spend using my phone.
  • I use my phone to change or improve my mood.
  • I tried controlling my phone usage, but I always end up spending more time than usual.
  • My day feels ruined without the presence of my phone.
  • My usage time has increased throughout the years.
Unsplash - Courtney Clayton
Photo by Courtney Clayton from Unsplash

Apart from these, declaring your smartphone as the center of your life is an absolute red flag. In my case, I don’t consider my smartphone as the center of my existence, but I do spend most of my free time scrolling through Imgur or Reddit. I also own an iPad, so YouTube is a drug for me. Before buying the iPhone, I felt strong urges to watch videos or read countless reviews about it, occupying my mind every single day. It feels weird admitting it now, but that’s how my obsession manifested.

And not that it’s any of my business, but your health also deals damage from your excessive smartphone usage. Having trouble sleeping lately? Maybe it’s because you’re binging on Good Mythical Morning before going to bed. Feeling tired and lethargic when you wake up? Maybe it’s because you scrolled through a bunch of dank memes on Imgur the night before. Studies have clearly pointed out that our smartphones are introducing us to a sedentary lifestyle — and take it from a 200-pound man, it ain’t pretty.

What Can You Do to Get Better?

Smartphones are indeed useful. They can get you a ride, match you with a date, and deliver you food with just a few clicks. They are that convenient. However, just like any other inventions that make life better, they can also take over your values and relationships. You probably don’t have an addiction, but you’re still spending way too much time in front of a screen. That’s not something a mentally and emotionally stable person does. So, I invite you to please get better. Not just for your loved ones but for yourself.

Unsplash - Alejandro Escamilla
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla from Unsplash

I’m not saying that throwing your gadget away is the solution. You can keep your beloved phone and still live out of its influence. Slowly remove your smartphone from your daily routine by minimizing your usage. Disable your notifications if possible, and only check your phone if you really have to. You can also try addiction-breaking apps like AppDetox and Forest. I heard they’re pretty great. If you want a more proactive solution, you can replace your smartphone hobby with another one. Want to learn a new language? Go for it. Thrilled to jump into some guitar lessons? No one’s stopping you. There’s more to life than your phone, so why not go out there and explore it?

I know what I’m saying because this is exactly what I’m going through right now. After numerous attempts to escape blame, I finally relented and decided to take responsibility for my actions. I minimized my smartphone usage by reading more books and improving my craft. I am slowly setting priorities so that I can eventually get rid of the habit of randomly checking my phone. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to take.

What I learned from this experience is that smartphones are cool and trendy, but the world around us is far more interesting than our social media feed. Maybe you should look at it this way, too. It’s time to look up from your phone and reconnect with the real people you’ve lost in exchange for a few likes and retweets.

So, did I convince you to take a break from your smartphone? Or are you too attached to your Twitter feed that nothing anyone says can ever stop you? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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