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Are you an addict? Telltale signs of smartphone addiction

Are you ever without your smartphone? Do you check it when your attention should be elsewhere? Who's in charge here - you or the phone? Join us for a look at the murky world of smartphone addiction and find out if you're an addict.
May 2, 2013

Hi, my name is Simon and I’m a smartphone addict. It has been ten seconds since I last touched my phone. I check email on the toilet, I watch videos at the dinner table, I nod agreement at my wife and kids over that hypnotizing display and half the time I have no idea what they just said. I check my phone at traffic lights, at the supermarket checkout, even in bed I tease that little screen to life and have my wicked way with it. If it buzzes I will check it regardless of the fact I am in mid-conversation with someone. I feel better when my phone is close by.

Last night, while watching a movie, I actually felt my heart skip a beat as I glanced at the arm of the couch and my phone was not in its customary spot. I immediately imagined my mischievous three year-old might have gotten a hold of it (he desperately wants my phone all the time, presumably because I spend countless hours staring at it), but I needn’t have worried. Do you know where it was? Can you predict where I found it, dear reader? It was in my hand the whole time. That’s right; I was looking for the phone in my hand. I think I may have hit rock bottom. I think I may be a smartphone addict, and if you recognize yourself in any of what I just told you, then you might be too.

Stats of addiction

According to a study conducted by IDC, and funded by Facebook, 62% of people reach for their smartphone as soon as they wake up in the morning. 89% of 18-24 year-olds use it within 15 minutes of waking. During an average day 79% of people have their smartphone on or near them for all but two hours of the day. 25% of people have it with them continuously, 24/7. We check them while shopping, running errands, cooking dinner, working out, eating, in meetings or classes, during movies, at live gigs, and even while on the toilet. They make us feel connected, but connected to what?

This level of attachment can’t be a good thing. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. It’s supposed to unburden us. Are you in control of your smartphone use, or is it bossing you? Addiction is defined as a “persistent, compulsive dependence”. Can you do without your phone? Many people fear being without their smartphone. British researchers coined the term nomophobia in 2008 to describe a fear of losing your mobile. A study by SecurEnvoy found that 66% of people fear being without their mobile phone.

What are we doing with our smartphones?

What do we actually do on our smartphones that’s so compelling? Well, for the most part we read email, or more accurately, compulsively check if a new email has arrived, in the forlorn hope that an incredibly exciting missive will somehow have found its way into our inbox alongside the bureaucracy of work and the mountain of spam (psychologists call this “variable ratio reinforcement” and it’s the same thing that keeps people playing slot machines in search of that thrilling pay-off). If we aren’t checking email we’re tuning in to Facebook to read messages from people we can’t be bothered to see in real life and to post our latest thoughts, or more accurately, compulsively check what the people we can’t be bothered to see in real life thought about our latest thoughts (I’m aware this might just be me).


We also browse the web and play games a lot; sometimes we’ll take pictures, check directions, or watch videos. The one thing we hardly ever do is actually make phone calls.

It’s not so much the device itself that we’re addicted to, but rather what it allows us to do. But what is this easy access to communication and entertainment doing to us? Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, amongst other things, thinks that the smartphone is dangerous. He said, “By design, it’s an environment of almost constant interruptions and distractions. The smartphone, more than any other gadget, steals from us the opportunity to maintain our attention, to engage in contemplation and reflection, or even to be alone with our thoughts.”

How to tell if you’re an addict

Since this is AA, albeit a different kind of AA, we thought we’d offer up some telltale signs of smartphone addiction so you can test yourself.

  1. Do you reach for your smartphone first thing in the morning?
  2. Do you check your smartphone last thing at night?
  3. Do you break off conversation to check your smartphone immediately when a new notification comes in?
  4. Do you take your smartphone to the bathroom with you?
  5. Do you sometimes play with your smartphone while people are talking to you?
  6. Do you constantly find new uses for your smartphone to legitimize your attachment?
  7. Do you check your smartphone while watching a movie at the cinema?
  8. Do you refuse to ever turn your smartphone off?
  9. Do you keep your smartphone visible and within reach at all times?
  10. Do you sometimes just look at your smartphone even although it isn’t doing anything?
  11. Do you panic when you misplace your phone, even for a minute?
  12. Do you have to charge your smartphone more than once a day?

If you racked up more than nine yesses then you need to check yourself into the nearest clinic for a digital detox.

If you scored between five and eight yesses then there’s still hope for you, but you need to act now.

If you scored four or fewer yesses then relax, your smartphone hasn’t taken over your life just yet.

How to quit your smartphone

The thorny issue of how to wean yourself off the smartphone is tough. My problem is that I used my smartphone to quit smoking. It gives you something to do with your hands, it’s the perfect filler for awkward social situations, or when waiting for five minutes, and it can serve as a wee break from whatever you are doing, just like smokes. I’m sure I could quit the smartphone if I started smoking again!

You have to try and wean yourself off it gradually and it’s not an all or nothing deal. As smartphone addicts we just need to reduce our dependence and cut out the anti-social behavior. If you’ve ever been talking to someone and they took their phone out and started focusing on it instead of you, didn’t that make you feel like slapping it out of their hand? Well, there’s a good chance people feel that way when you do it. Try imposing time limits. Start by introducing a ten minute period where you’re not allowed to touch your smartphone, regardless of notifications, and gradually increase it to a half hour and beyond. You’ll soon develop the ability to ignore it when it would be impolite not to.

If you find that you are a hopeless addict then throw your smartphone in the nearest trash immediately…..on second thoughts you can just send it to AA and we’ll see that it’s disposed of responsibly.

In the true spirit of AA please share your smartphone addiction stories, the more humiliating the better, in the comments below, and let’s see if we can’t beat this thing.