PSA: We’re All Addicted to Our Mobile Phones

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Photo: Courtesy of Charles Deluvio

Have you ever thought about how often you check your phone?

Have you ever thought about how your relationship with your phone may impact your relationships with others?

As a corporate wellbeing and high-performance consulting firm, we often read about, observe, and listen to a lot of stories related to smartphone use, abuse, and addiction. We regularly get involved in surveying and measuring the behaviors of people at work, both their individual and collective organizational habits. When asked, on average, 50 percent claim to check their phone every five to fifteen minutes. That’s what they say, but can we trust this response?

A recent UK study showed that we check our phones, on average, every 12 minutes. This will obviously differ from person to person, but most people seem to have their phones pretty much glued to their hands these days. Indeed, the mobile phone has almost become a teddy bear for adults. We bring it wherever we go, we hold it tightly in our hand most of the time, and we almost hug it when we feel uncomfortable, especially in social situations. It gives us a feeling of safety, security, and comfort.

Our phones also give us instant “feel-good kicks’’ in the form of Instagram likes, e-mails, and messages that activate our brain’s reward system and release dopamine. Many of us now bring our phones to the gym, yoga class, meetings, and one-to-one conversations. We use it whilst we’re cooking and whilst we’re eating. We keep it next to our bed, bring it to the toilet (yikes), on the plane, on the train, in the car, and even while walking through nature. Every time we have a free minute, most of us will fill that “empty space’’ by checking our phones instead of connecting with the people and environment around us.

I’d go as far as to claim that our society has turned into one of insecure, self-centered, smartphone addicts who believe they’re indispensable and, for the most part, are either ignorant or oblivious to the fact that they’re addicted to their devices.

Nomophobia is real, and it’s everywhere.

As a company, we run all our meetings and workshops device-free. That is often a first experience for many. It’s amazing, hilarious, and sometimes also a bit sad to observe people’s reactions when they enter a room and realize that they will not be able to check their phone for a couple of hours. The reactions of some illustrate an unhealthy addiction, which they are often unaware of and unable to handle. We’ve had people refusing to hand their phones in, others who’ve hidden them, and some who literally run to grab their phones at the end of a session as if it were a matter of life and death. Most importantly, though, pretty much all of them agree that the experience of not having their phone during the session allowed them to connect with both the topic and their colleagues in a different and positive way. The old-fashioned way, if you will.

If we’d talked about this ten years ago, most people would have laughed at the idea that we’d be so attached to our phones. Today, however, I’m often met with avoidance and a refusal to acknowledge unhealthy behaviors, often combined with a long list of reasons for why we must keep our phones close to us. Clients calling and old relatives potentially dying are two of the most frequently cited ones.

Whilst there are some studies illustrating the opposite, the majority of them agree and provide evidence of a link between smartphone use and reduced attention spans, ability to focus, quality of sleep, and social interactions. Increased anxiety, depression, and reduced creative abilities are also often highlighted consequences of smartphone abuse. Recognizing and acknowledging that you may have a smartphone addiction, whether mild or severe, is the first step in dealing with this problem.

Developments of new technology at unprecedented speed and scale are partly to blame, as are devices designed to trigger our brains’ reward system.

But how, you might be wondering, did we get here? Developments of new technology at unprecedented speed and scale are partly to blame, as are devices designed to trigger our brains’ reward system.

This widespread addiction to devices has been built up over a very short time span. Smartphones have only been around for about ten years and the resulting behavioral changes and health-related issues, which have skyrocketed since then, are scary. Because it’s impacting us all in the same way, we’ve all been equally blind to the rapid development of this phenomenon.

Some governments have started a conversation about how to tackle addiction, recognizing that we might be heading somewhere we’d rather avoid. However, there has still not been enough discussion or enough change. The world seems reluctant to confront this issue head on. So what are we to do?

As with most things relating to health and wellbeing, we fundamentally all have a choice, which we can exercise by taking control of our habits. So, rather than waiting for a government or your employer to make changes, start a movement of individual change. Collectively, we can all make a difference to our own lives and to that of others. The key is baby steps.

Here are a few that we’ve tried, including some tips from our expert partner on the topic, Shine Offline.

  • Measure your own phone utilization using apps such as RealizD or Mute.
  • Encourage less time spent on your phone by using apps such as Moment, Space, and Forest.
  • Time your work, set an alarm clock, and leave your phone in a different room to avoid distractions.
  • Switch off all e-mail, WhatsApp, and social media alerts.
  • Set your phone to silent.
  • Switch off e-mail synchronization over weekends.
  • Leave your phone outside of your bedroom.

Not all of them will work for you, and you don’t necessarily need to try them all in one go. Over time and collectively, they will help you change your habits and you will learn to live without your teddy bear.

Linda Jarnhamn is the Founder and Managing Director of flow²thrive. The core purpose of flow²thrive is to help companies and individuals to feel, be, and perform at their best. The company has developed a holistic, human-centric, technology-enabled approach and ecosystem that aims to maximise individual and organisational potential and performance by looking at where we work, how we work, and how we live.

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