In 2019, smartphone use reached record levels. It is expected that by 2021, the United States will have a 72.7% penetration rate, meaning that 3 out of 4 people will own and consistently use a smartphone device. People in developed countries use technology for everything ranging from communication to entertainment, with an ever-growing number of features and activities being added or promoted by pop culture (Scudamore par. 2).
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This leads to heavy usage, with people spending around 5 hours on average on the phone and checking it hundreds of times per day. As a result, a mental dependency is developed, for some, bordering on addiction. People have a habit of checking their phones, and most feel highly uncomfortable without them. Mental health professionals and even international medical organizations are beginning to recognize unhealthy patterns while encouraging limitations and a sensible approach (Roose par. 4).
While the smartphone is a valuable tool that has benefited civilization, the ensuing mental addiction has a profound, lasting impact on individuals’ health which also reflects on the future function of society. Despite opposing viewpoints, a solution can be found regarding smartphone addiction and its impact on society.
In recent studies, all of the grownups in the US from 18 to 29 years of age were found to possess a cellular phone of some kind, with smartphone ownership being a whopping 94% (Haug et al. 301). Moreover, most teenagers have been established to own their first smartphone as early as fifteen years of age. This has been a rising trend since the early 2000s (Jeong par. 2). The increasing interoperability, social, and connectivity necessities satisfied by the smartphone have made it almost inconceivable to forgo its ownership.
With the possession of the smartphone reaching near saturation across every age group, its demand and influence cannot be underestimated. Nevertheless, the social and psychological effects of smartphones remain largely contentious. In particular, smartphone addiction studies often agree that the negative impacts of the device are immense, and so are its associated mental health concerns.
The design and ensuing interpretations of smartphone addiction research usually reveal widespread fears and suppositions of the way dependence on the device may manifest. Issues regarding addiction to smartphones have augmented sharply in the previous decade (Panova and Carbonell 253). Mainstream media uphold such fears, usually anchored in scholarly studies in an extensive and dramatized fashion; for example, the comparison of smartphone addiction to that of cocaine and heroin with affirmations that all have spoilt generations. Researchers and medical experts in the field of mental health consistently assert that interventions should be established toward the prevention of excessive use of smartphones and alleviation of associated negative effects.
Smartphone usage has reached excessive levels and can be compared to addiction in the manner it influences behavior and social dynamics. Despite lacking a classification of an addiction, psychiatrists, parents, teachers, and other professionals are recognizing troubling behavior linked to this technology overuse. The role of the smartphone is becoming disproportionate in people’s lives to the point where functioning is impaired (Panova and Carbonell 255).
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Therefore, virtually unrestrained and unregulated use of smartphones has social, mental, physical, and developmental consequences similar to other classified behavioral addictions. The World Health Organization notes that internet addiction, which is essentially parallel with smartphone dependence, leads to social isolation and symptoms of withdrawal, with a high chance of losing family, friends or doing poorly in jobs or education (Jeong par. 3).
There are a variety of situations and symptoms where excessive use of the smartphone is evident and relevant. Attention spans, performance and ability to engage, and even moods are affected by smartphones and included software on them such as social media and games. There has been a notable connection to anxiety and depression because of overuse, and when people lack access to their smartphone for whatever reason, they experience strong discomfort or even panic. Meanwhile, compromises in attention can be dangerous as the dependence to reply to messages while driving can lead to accidents or simply strongly affect productivity at work or school.
There is also a social aspect as individuals, particularly young people, have issues with socializing in real life, outside the digital realm, and the sociability context is becoming uneven with people spending most of their time on smartphones. This can psychologically affect healthy relationship-building negatively and lead to conflict with family and friends. Finally, there is an issue of physical health as constant smartphone usage results in sedentary lifestyles, impacts on eyesight, and muscular and skeletal dysfunctions due to positions in which people consistently use their devices (Haug et al. 300).
Consistent use of the smartphone is unavoidable in important day-to-day activities but does not amount to addiction. Other than sending text messages and making phone calls, smartphones facilitate practices such as booking flight and train tickets, making online payments, and engaging in foreign exchange trade, to mention a few. Smartphones have become vital to daily life and function. Therefore, their consistent use is necessary and does not signify abnormal behavior. The growing technological possibilities and the shift of numerous aspects of life to the smartphone allow for greater productivity, connectivity, and efficiency.
People now use smartphones for work, professional and personal communication, self-care and health, hobbies (such as photography or even reading), and, of course, entertainment. The overwhelming use of the smartphone is critical to stay relevant and on-task (Campbell par. 3). At the same time, increased use of the smartphone can be attributed to the fact that all the features and activities that were previously done on paper, computers, or televisions are now largely available on-the-go mobile devices. Thus, at the expense of time on other consumer products, the majority of time for people is now spent on smartphones.
Smartphone addiction is a mainstream popularized cultural concept, which lacks proper scientific backing to designate it as a clinical mental pathology with research models taking a confirmatory approach. The Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not recognize smartphone addiction as pathology, unlike others such as gaming disorders, but it is still considered a phenomenon by researchers. Therefore, research questions automatically assume an addiction studying the severity of it, rather than identifying proper signs (Lanette and Mazmanian 2). The position accepts that some individual behaviors with smartphone usage are problematic or maladaptive but not severe enough or appropriate to be labeled as addiction (Panova and Carbonell 252).
The disparaging use of the word addiction is picked up by media headlines and affects several aspects ranging from consumer choices to market investors in mobile technologies to people seeking help for an issue that is not there. It is necessary to consider the functional use of the smartphone more closely, with social media and engagement proving a sense of validation to personal thoughts or activities.
Since people are hard-wired to seek affirmation in social settings, the constant participation in social communication is unsurprisingly giving the possibilities of modern technology. For adults, constant socialization is not an option due to other demands and responsibilities. However, for young adults, socialization is a priority that influences identity development and self-validation. To some extent, this may be considered problematic internet use, but it is also a lifestyle and function of the modern day. Obsessively checking one’s phone is a pattern of reinforced behavior that can be “broken without severe or long-lasting withdrawal effects” (Campbell par. 3).
Classifying it as addiction is both exaggerating the issue and potentially downgrading the true effects of addiction from aspects such as substance abuse. Therefore, while behaviors around smartphones are wired to provide affirmation and acceptance, a dopamine release, the patterns are far less concerning than portrayed and can be managed based on one’s comfort or independence.
A reasonable solution and compromise to excessive use of the smartphone, which has become increasingly popular in the past few years, is digital minimalism. In other words, the approach seeks to decrease smartphone usage and problematic behavior while still recognizing the importance of the device for both professional and personal use.
Smartphone manufacturers have begun implementing various software features that allow tracking and limiting one’s time on certain applications, such as social media, the primary concern citing the prevention of excessive use (Lanette and Mazmanian 4). Meanwhile, many internet celebrities, news media, and information websites are promoting guides on how to achieve maximum productivity with a smartphone while decreasing wasted time and controlling impulsive behaviors.
The prevention of addiction to smartphones is gaining popularity in public as people realize the mental health benefits of managing their usage. A solution would focus on publicly promoting this approach to lifestyle without attempting to portray smartphones as a negative aspect of society. It can be appropriate to address the issue from a public health perspective considering some effects on behaviors and well-being in the population. Using competent methods and empirical research, the issue can be relayed to the public as adequate understanding is often helpful in driving positive behaviors if it is done on a large scale (such as reducing smoking).
On a population level, these particular strategies of education and awareness, as well as some level of legislation requiring smartphone manufacturers to notify consumers about time spent on the phone, can be helpful (Ding and Li 2). However, drastic approaches as utilized by some governments in Asian countries to combat gaming addictions by physically and legally establishing limitations are not recommended as they will be impractical and create a whole other set of issues.
An examination of different perspectives suggests that there is controversy surrounding smartphone addiction and its impacts on society. One side argues that this is a necessary reality of the modern world as smartphones are integral to every aspect of functioning, with the smartphone addiction terminology being headlined by media without proper scientific backing.
The other position suggests that smartphone addiction is a highly dysfunctional aspect of the modern lifestyle that has been proven both by studies and anecdotal data to have negative consequences. It is important to note that both sides acknowledge instances of problematic use, which should be addressed. A potential compromise is to educate the public on the effects of extensive smartphone use and promote a limited digital minimalism approach to this essential modern device.
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Campbell, Andrew. “No, You’re Probably Not ‘Addicted’ to Your Smartphone – But You Might Use it Too Much.” The Conversation. Web.
Ding, Ding, and Jiang Li. “Smartphone Overuse – A Growing Public Health Issue.” Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy, vol. 7, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-3.
Haug, Severin, et al. “Smartphone Use and Smartphone Addiction among Young People in Switzerland” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, vol. 4, no. 4, 2015, pp. 299-307.
Jeong, Sophie. “The Teenagers so Addicted to Cellphones They’re Going to Detox Centers.” CNN. Web.
Lanette, Simone, and Melissa Mazmanian. “The Smartphone “Addiction” Narrative is Compelling but Largely Unfounded.” Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Web.
Panova, Tayana, and Xavier Carbonell. “Is Smartphone Addiction Really an Addiction?” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, vol. 7, no. 2, 2018, pp. 252-259.
Roose, Kevin. “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain.” The New York Times. 2019. Web.
Scudamore, Brian. “The Truth About Smartphone Addiction, and How to Beat it.” Forbes. 2018. Web.