everybody zebra crossing and looking down at smartphone

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A new study from A-GAP, a Florida-based non-profit, confirms what millions of Americans likely already know – we’re unhealthily addicted to our smartphones.

Worse, too many phone-aholics aren’t ready to shut their devices down and admit they have a problem.

Among other findings, A-GAP found that  . . .

  • 77% of respondents find themselves mindlessly checking their smartphone throughout the day, even when they know there’s nothing new to see
  • 71%  of respondents have texted a person in the same room or office as them
  • 73% of respondents keep their cellphone or tablet next to them or under their pillow when they sleep – with 20% claiming to even check it in the middle of the night

Yet only 56% of respondents claimed they were even moderately addicted to their smartphones.

“I just switched over from Android to the iPhone, and the Screentime feature has really been exposing how much time I waste on my phone,” says Shiwon Oh, a writer and analyst at Fueled, a mobile app developer.

Oh says that, sometimes, too much is really too much when it comes to personal cell phone usage.

“I have to sit back and recognize that my whole life is virtually downloaded onto my mobile device: my photos, videos, notes, and even credit card information are all stored in at least one app,” Oh says. “If I were to lose my phone, my life would be disturbingly affected as it essentially holds a large portion of my personhood— and the fact that I’ve become too dependent on it really frightens me.”

Others say while they may have a smartphone overuse problem of their own, it’s apparent that plenty of others do, too.

“I have been a professional bartender for twenty-seven years and the smartphone addiction epidemic is affecting my job,” says Johnny Welsh, a restaurant veteran and an author in Frisco, Col. “It takes longer to take orders or even get someone’s attention. Cell phone addiction is driving us in the service industry crazy.”

Welsh says he is just as guilty.

“I find myself mindlessly checking my phone whenever I am bored,” he says.

Akin to day drinking?

Smartphone addiction really has entered the realm of serious addiction, behavioral experts say – and that’s a big problem.

“We’re well into the domain of the daily drinker who says, “It takes the edge off, but I can quit anytime I want,” says Brian Solis, a digital anthropologist and bestselling author. “But, what about smartphones, too?”

In fact, Solis believes “it’s only a matter of time before smartphone use, social media platforms and other sources of “intense, constant and damaging digital distraction” receive their own WHO disease classifications.”

Solis has broken down smartphone addiction intofive organized stages that mirror those of accepted spectrums of smartphone addiction – each of which are identified in a number of academic studies.

According to Solis, here’s a description of someone who he says are “digitally obsessed.”

  • They live with a compulsive need to use their smartphones
  • They often suffer from “Nomophobia”, i.e., feeling of anxiety or distress when without one’s smartphone
  • They may treat their smartphone as a relationship partner
  • They experience social isolation and apathy toward other activities and even suffer from
  • Health issues arise from aberrant behaviors. Staying awake all night playing a game or binge-watching an on-demand TV series leads to mood swings

“Withdrawal symptoms are abundant,” Solis notes. “They may include being impatient, fretful, and intolerable without a smartphone, constantly having one’s smartphone in one’s mind even while not using it, never giving up using one’s smartphone, and becoming irritated when bothered while using one’s smartphone,” he explains.

oncert goers with their lit up mobile phones during Post Malone concert at The SSE Hydrooncert goers with their lit up mobile phones during Post Malone concert at The SSE Hydro
Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns

Get’em While They’re Young

A key flashpoint for the smartphone industry was convincing parents it was okay to get their grade-schoolers a phone before their 10th birthday.

“Smartphones are a slow-motion car crash decreasing the ability of the general population to understand other people’s emotions and mental state,” says Brandon Ackroyd, founder of TigerMobiles.com, in Leeds, United Kingdom. “There is a distinct lack of empathy and compassion deficit amongst those who can’t put their smartphone down.”

Ackroyd says the problem grows even worse when young children get their hands on a smartphone in the early stages of their development.

“These devices vibrate in their hands and tickle their imagination, and they stop children learning how to interact in real life situations,” he says. “Children today are so used to looking down and not up and there is a danger we are sleepwalking into an unhealthy future.”

How do you break the habit? Like most addictions, it takes admitting you have a problem and then being disciplined to fix it, Ackroyd says.

“Nobody else can help you, and it’s up to you to self-regulate your smartphone habits,” he says.

To get back on track, Ackroyd recommends taking the following action steps:

  • Turn off all push notifications for trivial apps and notifications that aren’t from real friends/people you need to speak to.
  • Take apps that are a known timewasters off the home screen and make them harder to find.
  • Remove all social media apps (“I can honestly say I’ve never felt better about my own life after watching someone else’s Instagram story, so why bother?”, says Solis.)
  • Don’t take your phone to bed.

Lifestyle specialists also advise addictive smartphone users to take the initiative against invasive device usage.

“The key to breaking the addiction is for people to learn to use their phones instead of letting their phones use them,” says Alexis Haselberger, a time management and productivity coach located in San Francisco.

Haselberger advises phone users to move all those time-sucking apps to a folder called time sucks, several swipes back on your phone. “Just the split second that it takes for you to think about what you are doing, instead of your thumb automatically finding Instagram or Twitter, is often all you need to break the cycle,” she says.

In addition, turn off all notifications except for text and meeting notifications, Haselberger advises.

“Studies show that it takes us on average, 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction,” she notes. “Other studies show we are interrupted every 11 minutes.”

“I think we can all do the math there and see why we all feel so busy, but often can’t point to what we’ve accomplished,” Haselberger adds.

Loss of Privacy a Bigger Issue?

Some technology professionals say the issue of phone addiction is overblown – to a point.

“Just because many of us find ourselves mindlessly checking our smartphone throughout the day, even when we know there’s nothing new to see, isn’t a problem,” says Jamie Cambell, a cybersecurity expert and founder of GoBest VPN, a digital privacy educational platform. “This is equivalent to people checking the refrigerator over and over when they already know what’s inside. But are we addicted to refrigerators?”

The issue is too complex to hang the term “addiction” to heavy device users. “We simply don’t know what smartphone habits are doing to society and whether there is harm,” Cambell says.

That said, there are areas of concern within our smartphone usage that need to be addressed.

“I would argue the biggest harm at the moment is the lack of privacy linked to smartphone use,” Cambell says. “Whether people have given up on privacy and willingly sharing their information to the public or companies trying to take advantage of the lack of legislation around privacy and data protection, we’re losing ourselves.”