The UK is now a ‘smartphone society,’ with over 80% of the population having access to one. Smartphones have overtaken laptops and ipads as our number one go-to device – and we access them all the time. A third of us wake up in the middle of the night to check our phone.
Smartphones are much more than a communication tool. They offer information, connection with others and entertainment. Which all sounds fantastic until you start to delve into the clinical literature about smartphone addiction.
The first thing that strikes you is the number of terms for this problem. Mobile phone addiction, problematic mobile phone use, mobile phone dependence, compulsive mobile phone use, mobile phone mania and, my favourite, ‘nomophobia’ – the phobia of having no mobile phone. As our use of mobile phones has increased rapidly, so have reports of mobile phone addiction.
Researchers talk about ‘FoMo’ – the Fear of Missing Out – which leads to compulsive checking of our smartphones and social media to find out what our friends and family are doing, in case we are Missing Out.
For young people in particular, a mobile phone is more a necessity than a luxury, and being cut off from their phone can bring real problems. Constant texting, listening to music, playing games on their phone and accessing social media are all part of the lifestyle of young people. Some may be so engrossed in their mobile phone that they neglect other areas of their life and fail to give due attention to what is around them – as anyone who has watched a teenager try to text and cross the road at the same time will attest.
Researchers suggest that mobile phone addiction can led to disrupted sleep, stress and fatigue. In more extreme cases it can lead to dangerous use, for example checking your phone when driving, and financial problems.
So how do you know whether you have a problem? Researchers suggest that positive answers to the following questions may mean you suffer from Problematic Mobile Phone Use.
When you have no access to your mobile phone do you suffer withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and irritation?
Do you access your phone in places where its use might be seen as anti-social – for example at the dinner table or when talking to a friend?
Do you access it in places where it is actually prohibited – in the cinema, whilst driving a car?
Do you always keep the phone on you and feel anxious when you cannot immediately access it?
Have you experienced any social or financial difficulties related to your obsessive mobile phone use – complaints from your partner about your excessive phone use, for example?
If any of these are ringing a bell, then you might be a mobile phone addict.
Of course, if you are hearing bells ringing, you might also be suffering from ‘Ringxiety’ – the problem of phantom ringing, when you think you hear your mobile phone ringing even when it is not.
Either way, this should be a wake-up call for those of us who are becoming addicted to our mobiles.
Sarah Pedersen is a Professor of Communication and Media and the Director of Research in Communication, Marketing and Media