Deep Dive


Smart phones are a great boon to our lives. They literally put the world at our finger tips. But they also come with a dark side. Smart phone addiction, a behavioral addiction comparable to gambling and shopping, is becoming more and more common.

Smart phone addiction

Cell phones started out innocent enough. They allowed you to stay in touch with your family when you were out. But over time, cell phones morphed into smart phones. Suddenly, you have the entirety of the internet in your pocket at all times. And so you can see pictures of your friends having fun, follow the news as it happens and keep up with work even when you are relaxing on the beach. As a consequence, it has become harder and harder to put down your phone and not check it every minute.

All behavioral addictions can be traced back to natural behaviors. Shopping triggers the same areas in our brain as foraging for nuts and berries does. Games like golf and tennis trigger the same areas as hunting. As long as these activities take genuine effort, they are healthy hobbies. But computers have changed things. Playing a round of virtual golf gives you the same dopamine hit as playing a round of real golf does. Except you can skip over the tedious parts like walking to your ball and just focus on the primal excitement of aiming and shooting. Over and over again. If you shop on Amazon, there’s no need to walk through stores, no sense of money changing hands, and anything can be yours at just the click of a button. As a consequence, behavioral addictions have become a far bigger problem since we started carrying our computers with us all day.

Distraction as a business model

Rather than protect us from this potential addiction, most companies try to trigger addictive behavior as much as they can because their business models rely on it. Slot machines will give players inordinate amounts of near-wins, because those will keep a player pressing the buttons. Online shops trigger people to buy more by suggesting additional items or showing promotions after the transaction is completed. And companies that sell ads try to get you to look at your phone as often as possible. The easiest way to keep you coming back is to constantly distract you. And because we secretly like being distracted, we do keep coming back. More than 60% of Americans admit to checking their phones even when there was no beep. And the figure for other countries will not be far off.

Whether you feel you are addicted or just really like your phone, the constant distractions can have serious repercussions on your health. If you are constantly checking your smartphone and social media, you risk developing low self-esteem, being less effective at work and estranging yourself from your loved ones. Online connections cannot replace connecting with people in real life.

Healthy phone use

Throwing away your phone will probably be too extreme for you, so we’re going to suggest a milder change to your phone use. First, create a special spot in your living room or office to put your smart phone when you’re not using it. Mark it out on your desk, so the spot becomes a physical part of the new habit.

Next, commit to some times during the day when you will put your smart phone in its special spot and not look at it. A few suggestions:

Every day, make a conscious effort to make the activities you choose phone free. At first, this may feel uncomfortable, but as you get used to this, you’ll find your phone can easily do without you for a few hours.