Are Smart Phones Actually Addictive?

Despite being nearly two weeks into my first semester at Penn State University, I continue to not-so-proudly wear the look of the typical lost freshmen student every time I leave 111 Forum and start the bewildering journey back to my humble abode in Tener Hall. Although I am starting to feel certain that I am incapable of figuring out this massive campus and am ultimately destined to be the lost SENIOR student here at PSU, I have found a silver lining as this deficiency of mine led to hitting inspiration for this blog post. In the midst of me desperatley trying to memorize my surroundings, I made an observation. While I am panicking about being late for my next class/ taking in the beauty of my beloved school, many of those around me are staring down at little hand-held screens created to enhance communication, yet seem to have led to the demise of face to face social interaction. That’s right- cell phones. Admittedly, despite being fully aware of the injustice this social-media phenomena has done to the friendships of those in my cohort, I am extremely hypocritical as I have checked my cell phone 3 times in the process of writing this post. This leads me to pose the scientific question: Are Smartphones actually addictive? Due to the introduction of cellular technology to our society being relativley recent, there is an abundant amount of research being done on the possible dangers of usage.

Throughout researching this topic it has been made clear to me that cell phone usage takes up a significant portion of the general populations lives. In a study of 1,600 managers and professionals, Dr. Leslie Perlow, a professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School, found some interesting information.
70% said they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep.
48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
51% check continuously during vacation.
44% said they would experience “a great deal of anxiety” if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week.

Dr. David Greenfield, author of “Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyber Freaks, and Those Who Love Them”, brings up the interesting point that many people are compelled to text while driving although they are fully aware that they are endangering lives; this indicates that there may be something almost addictive about cell phone use. He defines addiction as “growing tolerance to a substance…so you need more to get ‘high,’ uncomfortable symptoms during withdrawal, and a harmful impact on your life”. If you are checking social media seeking rewards or your usage is disrupting your family life, your behavior may be classified as a problem. Greenfield tells us the reason for this obsessive behavior could be “variable ratio reinforcement”. People are not aware of when something positive like a nice text message will come up on their phones, leading them to continuously check to seek reinforcement.

Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”, has also written extensively on the addictive nature of cell phones. He makes an interesting point about “human beings have a deep, primitive desire to know everything that’s going on around them”. This instinctive tactic may have been helpful for survival of cavemen.

As evident through the theories I have referenced above, there is indeed a high probability of Smartphone usage being addictive in nature. There is a lot of psychological evidence of this and more anatomical evidence being looked into each day. More research is being done on all of the different potential effects this little gadget is having on human kind. Here is some incentive to start ceasing the day and living life! These addictive aspects of cell phone usage could really have a negative impact on your life which is beautifully explained in this video. .

I fear that Albert Einstein's fear is coming true.

I fear that Albert Einstein’s fear is coming true.

2 thoughts on “Are Smart Phones Actually Addictive?

  1. Eric Robert Kisner

    This post is really insightful, and brings up some great points of what constitutes “addiction,” in the literal sense. I’ve never found smart-phone usage to be terrifically fulfilling or beneficial, except when used in strict moderation (the number of people I know who actually use smart phones in this way is pretty low), so I think that, by definition, we are attached to something that ultimately hurts us more than it helps us. I’m probably guiltier than anyone, as I spend roughly 16 hours a day scrolling through Tumblr, but I recognize that it’s reached a point where it no longer really enhances my life. Yet I can’t seem to stop, and I think that really is the nature of “addiction.” While I couldn’t find anything directly on the subject, it makes me wonder if we are starting to become chemically dependent on the stimuli that come from cell phones. Are there brain chemicals that become active when using a smartphone that are comparable to those active when we use addictive substances?

  2. Brendan Feifer

    Hi Erin,
    I really enjoyed reading your post, especially when you suggested that smartphone addiction was related to social media but took away the interpersonal communication between people. However, the addiction aspect of your post got me thinking.

    Is it addiction, or is it a habit? An online organization distinguished the two. A habit can turn into an addiction when a chemical dependence is enhanced. Essentially, if we casually check our phone, it may just be habit. Nevertheless, if we compulsively check our phone every five minutes, the habit may be leaning on the addiction side of the spectrum.

    Thanks for the great post! It should also be pointed out that while smart phones can lead to addiction, addiction can’t necessarily lead to smart phone usage. Precisely, correlation does NOT equal causation.

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