No, You’re Not Addicted to Your Phone. Neither Are Your Kids
Forget all that hand-wringing. Smartphones are good for you and they’re good for your kids.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Dozens of articles have recently been posted about smartphone addiction, many of which simply assume that nearly everyone suffers from it. (E.g. " Why you're addicted to your phone... and what to about it.")
According to the world's most authoritative source on this subject, The U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health), behavior only becomes addictive when
"a habit changes into an obligation [that creates] craving, excessive behavior, psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms, loss of control, development of tolerance (increased behavior range) and inducing and perceiving expected psychotropic effects (e.g., pathological gamblers use several slot machines at the same time)... People who suffer from behavioral addictions were tired, depressed, lonely, bashful, shy, and usually have other types of addiction."
That kind of excessive, compulsive, and obsessive usage is a far cry from how almost everybody uses their smartphones.
Under the REAL definition of addiction (not the pop culture mis-definition), even if you spend most, or almost all, of your free time using your phone, you're probably not addicted.
You just enjoy using your phone. And why the hell not?
Let's face it: the smartphone is the most entertaining and convenient device ever invented. It combines the conversation, correspondence, reading, watching TV, playing games, etc. Furthermore, smartphones provide all those wonderful experiences without the unwieldy hassle of toting a wired phone, writing materials, books, magazines, newspapers, a television, a radio, game boards, and a laptop.
Case in point: back in the day, I used to have an open book--usually face down hanging over something so it wouldn't hurt the spine--in every room in the house. That way, I'd always have something to read. Was I addicted to reading? Of course not. I just preferred spending my spare moments reading. Today, I read books (and most everything else) on my phone. I'm still not addicted to reading. I just enjoy reading.
Everything we do on our phones replaces something either pleasurable or useful that we were already doing in the past, but with a fraction of the hassle. If anything, the variety of activities available on a phone helps us avoid wasting time on mediocre stuff. For example, I haven't watched a TV commercial in years but I've watched some pretty damn great TV.
Another theme in "phone addiction" articles is the notion that widespread "phubbing" (looking at your phone during a conversation) is a dire symptom of some kind of weird social disconnection.
Give me a break.
The reason we check our phones when we're talking to other people is that most conversations simply don't require our full attention.
Of course, there's always a danger that we might be prioritizing poorly, as when a manager phubs an employee or a phubbing your spouse, which is always a bad idea. Even then, though, the solution isn't "recovery" from addiction. The solution is better conversation skills.
The same thing is true, BTW, about phone usage in business meetings. Look: if you don't want people to be constantly checking their phones during a meeting, make your meetings less boring. Make an agenda; move things along. Chop, chop! Time's a wastin'!
Which leads me to kids.
Last year, the article on The Atlantic website that got the most pageviews was "Have Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?" While that article clearly struck a note (as it went viral), the article treats what teens do on their smartphones as something new and therefore suspect. Here's an excerpt:
"Despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today's teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were... Like her peers, Athena is an expert at tuning out her parents so she can focus on her phone. She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. 'I've been on my phone more than I've been with actual people,' she said. 'My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.'"
Every teen since the beginning of time has been an expert at tuning out parents.
For example, my older sister literally (and I mean literally) spent hours on the phone with her friends, every single day. My mother (she was a single mom) might as well have not existed.
The same was true of me but with SciFi paperbacks. From age 13 to 17, the only time I had a conversation with my mother was when I wanted her to buy me something or when she wanted me to take out the trash.
Back then, most social contacts were school-based... just as it for kids today. As for hanging out with friends as a teen, that was often dependent upon getting a ride... just as it today anywhere that lacks high-density housing. If anything, smartphones make it easier to connect and coordinate.
In short, just as with adults, smartphones represent not some massively addictive existential threat to the well-being of our children but merely a more convenient way to do all the things that kids want to do anyway and would figure out how to do some other way if they didn't have a smartphone.
So, if you're worried that you're addicted to your smartphone or terrified that your kids are being "ruined" by their phones, seriously, get a grip. Basically, smartphones are good, for you and for your kids.
This is not to say that all content is created equal. You've got to police what your kids watch and, for that matter, wisely consider what entertaining and information you want to let into your own mind and life.
But that's a completely different issue.