Are We all Addicted to Our Phones Now?

May 2, 2022 | internet addiction, online addiction, smartphone

Last week Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach posted on Instagram about his phone addiction to his 4 million followers, in a post that garnered over 2,000 comments from those saying they felt exactly the same way.

phone addiction
Joe Wicks aka The Body Coach

The same day journalist James Ball published a piece in the Guardian “How I tried and failed to kick my screen addiction” where he detailed an (ultimately unsuccessful) two week experiment in attempting to live without his smartphone.

Hardly a day seems to go by when someone in the public eye isn’t talking about how much they are struggling with their phone habits. In 2015 Ed Sheeran famously gave up his smartphone for two years after worrying about the toll it was taking on him and his inability to be present.

Something he repeated again in 2019.

But it’s not just celebrities and those with jobs in the media who are talking about their struggles. Increasingly those same conversations are taking place amongst the rest of us too.

Resisting the attention economy

The reason is that, despite acres of media coverage, documentaries, books, interviews and podcasts all devoted to the insatiable demands of the attention economy – nothing has changed. If anything, the tricks and techniques used to keep us hooked to our smartphones are growing ever stronger in their power and sophistication.

We all make excuses

In order to feel good about the choice we’re making to spend so much of our waking lives glued to our smartphones, and the impact on our relationships, families and mental health, we all make excuses for the escalating time we spend on them, just like Joe admits to in his post.

phone addiction
Joe Wicks aka The Body Coach

We all know, like Joe, that ‘work’ accounts for only a fraction of the time we now spend on our smartphones. A survey at the beginning of this year says this we now spend up to a third of our waking hours on mobile apps, about 4.8 hours a day.

Addiction or dependence?

Most of us are not really clinically ‘addicted’ to our phones, despite what Joe posts, but rather have developed a heavy dependency and a lot of very bad habits – encouraged and enabled by persuasive technology.

phone addiction
Joe Wicks aka The Body Coach

And smartphones are often the ‘gateway’ to other addictive habits like gambling or viewing pornography.

“As with any drug, the vast majority of users won’t get addicted, but a small subset – 10-15% – will run into trouble and potentially get seriously addicted,”

Dr Anna Lembke, Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, Stanford University

In the talks I give in workplaces and at schools I am at pains to point out to those who are worried about their habits that true addiction would look something like this;

  • Losing interest in activities or hobbies or events that used to be important.
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities and socialising.
  • Continuing to engage in those behaviours, despite the negative consequences.
  • Trying, but failing, to reduce or stop.

It’s interesting of course that many of the people who say they have had to go completely cold turkey on their smartphones do in fact report, like Joe, that they have tried to cut down but have been completely unable to do so.

Where to go for help

The UK’s new Online Safety Bill, and similar legislation being passed in the EU and the US, will be groundbreaking in terms of our digital safety but won’t do very much, I’m afraid, to reign in the rapacious demands of the attention-based economy we all now find ourselves being manipulated by.

If your smartphone habits are escalating, feel out of control and are seriously affecting your quality of life, then you should immediately seek help from a trained professional. If you’re not worried about phone addiction but think you may be developing a dependency and bad habits, then the digital wellbeing movement I founded, Time To Log Off, has some really useful resources, how-tos and help – do check it out.

My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open by Tanya Goodin

For more about keeping dealing with phone addiction, digital distractions and getting a better balance with your phone – pick up a copy of my new book.