Smartphones are becoming an increasingly ubiquitous part of daily life, but how do we draw…
Smartphone Addicts at Serious Physical Risk
When people talk about smartphone addiction, it’s often not taken particularly seriously. Much of the public discussion about the overuse of smartphones centers on the death of real-life interaction, with families eating meals in silence, with everyone glued to their technological device of choice. One thing that can be said with some certainty is that the issue is not seen as being as vexing as drug or alcohol addiction or other behavioral addictions like sex addiction. Unfortunately, though, the risks associated with smartphone addiction are not solely psychological in nature. In fact, many deaths have been caused by excessive phone use, and even greater numbers have suffered from injuries as a result. Although smartphone addiction is just gaining recognition as an issue, it’s only a matter of time before we’re forced to take it more seriously.
Smartphone Addiction and Technology Addiction
Smartphones, and modern technology on the whole, have the potential to be addictive because they play into our inherent drive for social interaction. Our brain rewards us for social interactions, and the fact that we have an Internet-equipped device with access to social media and the contact information for most people we know produces a lot of temptation. Smartphone addiction isn’t yet widely accepted, but there are many indications that something beyond simply using the device to enrich our daily lives is going on. For example, a survey found that 10 percent of respondents reported texting while having sex, and another piece of research found that over 50 percent of mobile technology consumers text while driving, despite this quite obviously being an extremely risky behavior. The majority of people suffer “separation anxiety” when their phones aren’t with them, and 75 percent of people keep their phones within five feet at all times.
We may need more quantitative data, but addiction to smartphones and other technology definitely appears to be a reality. Simply using your cell phone a lot isn’t an addiction, but when people can’t be away from their phones without anxiety and would choose to save their phones first if their house were on fire, all of these things put together make the reality of the situation a little more unavoidable.
Physical Risks of Smartphone Use
There are many ways that being transfixed by a phone screen could have serious consequences. A survey from the U.K. found that 86 percent of respondents had suffered an injury from a trip, fall or other accident because they were using their smartphone at the time. In Tokyo in 2013, there was a 50 percent increase in the number of injuries resulting from people crossing the road while glued to their phones.
Texting while driving is a more obvious risk to both yourself and others. A survey of people who’d texted while driving showed that almost all of them knew the risk, but three-quarters still continued to do it. Drivers are six to 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash while texting (depending on the study), and 3,000 U.S. teens die as a result each year. In many cases, it’s an innocent pedestrian who suffers the consequences.
Some cases of smartphone obsession go a little further. Cases like a woman falling to her death as she tried to take the perfect selfie and others trying to get selfies with bears show that the potential issues include much more than accidents due to a lack of attention. Even using your phone in the bathroom – which over 50 percent of young adults do – leads to the buildup of harmful bacteria on your screen that could lead to infection and illness.
A Core Sign of Addiction
The debate about whether excessive cell phone use could be classified as an addiction will undoubtedly continue to shift in favor of the affirmative as cases like these become more common. Like the alcoholic who can’t resist having a drink before operating heavy machinery or driving, continuing to consume a substance or engage in a behavior when there is significant physical risk is one of the core signs of addiction. Likewise, the separation anxiety observed in phone users could be viewed as a form of withdrawal, and it’s abundantly clear that excessive mobile phone use can take its toll on personal relationships. No, there isn’t a substance being ingested, but the physical, psychological and social consequences exist all the same.
While you can’t say that people who use their phone more than a certain number of hours per week are addicted, when you consider the other risks people take to continue using their phones, it makes it easier to identify problematic smartphone use. For most people, straying into risky territory may be corrected by making some firm decisions to not text while driving or while crossing the road, as well as promising yourself that you won’t disrupt intimate moments with your significant other to send a text, that you’ll pay attention to other people in conversations and so on. For a small minority, though, the problems will run deeper, and we need to start taking those problems seriously enough to encourage cell phone addicts to find professional support.