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Smartphone Addiction Definition

Smartphone addiction – definition


= a pathological fear of not having access to a mobile phone

(A particular form of it, the "Over-connection syndrome" occurs, when mobile phone use reduces the amount of social and family interactions while favouring virtual connectivity.)

Smartphone addiction – importance

In How To Break Up With Your Phone author Catherine Price argued in 2018 that most smartphone users have a toxic relationship with their phones, sabotaging their sleep, creativity, and interpersonal relationships. This relationship is tagged as “Nomophobia”, from „NoMobile-Phone-Phobia“. Studies in India, UK and the U.S. showed percentages between 18.5% and 66% of the general population to be concerned. Seventy-five percent of people who think unplugging from their phone is a good idea, will not actually take a break.

Smartphone addiction tampers with our sleep quality.

By emitting blue light, smartphone screens keep our brains awake late at night, and, in addition to this, they disturb our sleep quality by blocking the secretion of the “sleep hormone” melatonin.

Smartphone addiction hampers creativity.

Smartphone use is incompatible with the three prerequisites for creativity:

  1. mental space,
  2. a wandering mind, and
  3. a relaxed mood.

Notifications and endless social media feeds clutter our mental space with content that serves advertisers rather than ourselves. Compulsively picking up our phone during every spare moment prevents us from letting our mind wander or daydream. Together with missing relaxation, our creativity will be thus considerably hampered.

Smartphone addiction inhibits healthy social relationships.

While they promise greater connectivity than ever before, in fact they do distract us from real humans in front of us. The absurd sight of family members or friends at a restaurant table, staring in complete silence at their phones or tablets, has become increasingly common.

Smartphone addiction impairs our memory.

The average human can hold around seven items of information in his short-term memory at the same time. Smartphones drown our brains in much more information than this, leading to a greater cognitive load than our short-term memory can manage.

For new information to enter long-term memory, it first needs to pass through the short-term memory. Much of information our brain gets flooded with by smartphones therefore gets simply lost. In addition to this, new memories must be woven into their perceptional context and into our pre-existing cognitive schemas for linking new data to pre-existing knowledge. This process of weaving the thread of perception into the carpet of memory takes time and requires mental space. Therefore, smartphone addiction will drown us in (mostly trivial) information while starving our hunger for knowledge to death.

Smartphone addiction – mechanisms

Smartphone apps are designed for compulsive use.

Social media apps use psychological tricks to keep us engaged and addicted. For example, upon seeing app notifications about likes, our brain experiences a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and we feel rewarded. Expecting more rewards, we linger on the app for longer. When we set the phone aside, nudges like notification bells draw our attention back to the device.

Social applications for smartphones also employ strategies capitalizing on our human urge to socialize. We can find social validation from a far-flung network of peers. But we can also find plenty of toxic reaction on social media instead. Like slot machines, social media prevent us though from reducing our time spent on social media as a result of these negative experiences: the uncertainty of irregular rewards promotes addictive behaviour.

The final trap is our urge to feel control. A swipe opens a new movie, produces a new page, presents fresh content. This power caters to our sense of mastery and control over our immediate environment. The corresponding satisfaction that we feel keeps us engaged on our smartphone for longer. The result is an absurd contradiction: an activity that produces a pleasant sensation of control, erodes our powers of deliberate choice.

Smartphones encourage us to multitask, but our brain isn’t built for it.

Since 2009 studies have proven, that multitaskers are delusional about their ability to complete parallel tasks. (The Buddhist theory of mindfulness denies this capacity to our brain since centuries.) The human brain needs to slow down and re-focus before it can engage with any new task. The process of entering a state of deep focus that leads to productive work (flow state) takes 25 minutes on average. On the contrary, smartphones apps are intentionally designed to distract us from full immersion in a single task, while nonetheless generating feelings of satisfaction and control.


Smartphone addiction – symptoms

In order to qualify as an addiction, a behaviour must meet 3 criteria:
  1. It must be impulsive and not deliberate. 
  2. The behaviour must be continued despite harmful consequences. 
  3. Ceasing the behaviour must cause symptoms of withdrawal. 


Bodily symptomsEmotional symptoms
  • breathing difficulties
  • trembling
  • perspiration
  • agitation
  • disorientation
  • racing pulse
  • anxiety

·       depression

  • panic
  • fear
  • dependence
  • rejection
  • low self-esteem
  • loneliness

Anxiety is provoked by the loss of a mobile phone, loss of reception, and a dead mobile phone battery. Irrational and extreme reactions due to anxiety and stress may be experienced in airports, academic institutions, hospitals and work, when mobile connectedness is restricted. On the contrary, the ability to communicate through a mobile phone gives the individual peace of mind and security. Such people will often insist on keeping their devices on at all times, typically returning to their homes to retrieve forgotten cell phones.

Impulsively using the smartphone, having one or more devices with access to internet, and always carrying a charger are other symptoms.

Generally, in smartphone addiction face-to-face interactions with humans are replaced by a growing preference for communication through technological interfaces, keeping the device in reach when sleeping and never turned off, and looking at the phone screen frequently to avoid missing any message, phone call, or notification (also called “ringxiety”). Signs of distress and depression occur when the individual does not receive any contact through a mobile phone.

Secondarily nomophobia can also lead to financial difficulties due to the excessive use of data and devices, or purchasing items. I some cases even sore elbows, hands, and necks may occur, due to repetitive use.

Smartphone addiction may be masking underlying disorders like social anxiety or panic disorder, the smartphone use reducing stress generated by social anxiety and social phobia.

Smartphone addiction – “50 ways to leave your lover”, smartphone that is…

Smartphone addiction – treatment

Currently, scholarly accepted and empirically proven treatments are very limited as smartphone addiction is such a relatively new concept. However, promising treatments include cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy: the so called “Reality Approach” invites to mindfully focus behaviours away from cell phones. It is combined in extreme cases with medications, such as tranylcypromine combined with clonazepam, in usual doses. Despite their pronounced side effects, these substances were successful in reducing the effects of nomophobia. Even EMDR, known from trauma therapy proved to be promising. It may be rather difficult to treat smartphone addiction directly, while underlying mental disorders should always be identified and treated if any exist.

Mindfulness training can reverse smartphone addiction.

Outside medical settings, mindfulness meditation combined with certain practical changes will help smartphone addicts regain self-control over their device. Mindfulness encourages practitioners to understand that the urge to pick up the phone is an invitation from the brain that can be accepted or declined. It teaches us to pay attention to our cravings. This attention is meant to be observant and non-judgmental. Mindful users will pause before acting upon the impulse to check their phone, and can question whether using the phone at that time is in the interest of short-term tasks or long-term happiness. Inserting this simple delay between the urge to use the phone and actually picking it up, allows us to seek clarity about the reasons for the urge. We can list the changes, both positive and negative, that we notice in our mood and motivation following smartphone use.

We should also figure out how much we would be ready to pay per week to have access to our social media apps, and repeat the exercise for our favourite real-life experiences. We might will end up discovering that in stark money terms, we value the time we spend on social media much less than our experiences in the real world.

Adjusting the lock screen can keep smartphone addiction in check. While compulsive smartphone use is unlikely to disappear suddenly, a mindfully crafted lock screen can put us back on track, when we find a phone in our hand. For example, we could use a note saying, “What do you want to pay attention to?”, or “What For? Why Now? What Else?” Such questions invite us to reflect on why we are holding our phones, whether we are about to make a worthwhile investment of our time, and what else we might instead do to add value to our lives.

It is easier to avoid overusing smartphones when they are out of sight.

Willpower is limited. Many tasks deplete this resource during our everyday lives, which might even end up in what is called ego depletion, when we indulge – despite knowing better – in unhealthy decisions. When the smartphone is within reach, willpower will be depleted by simply fighting our urge to pick it up. It will save focus and energy, to remove our smartphone from our immediate sight. For example, moving the charging point for the phone outside the bedroom will help with excessive use at night, and no-phone zones in the house will clear the space for creative work. For the very daring: a periodic 24-hour smartphone break will help us reignite connections with the real people, and the real world around us.

Healthier alternatives yield us the same rewards as smartphones might.

We pick up our smartphones to solve a problem, satisfy a need, or seek a reward.

Good old books do provide escape from boredom while doing less damage to creativity and productivity. Reading books boosts creativity, retention, and reasoning capacity, while smartphones leave us scatter-brained.

30 days plan to quit smartphone addiction

Finally, here is Catherine Price’s 30 days action plan:

Days 1-2

Use a tracking app to assess how much time you spend on your phone.

Days 3-4

Pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after using your phone. Also make a note of how many times you interrupt a real-life activity to engage with your phone.

Days 5-7

The social media breakup step. Delete those apps and start using your social media time for healthier activities.

Days 8-9

Disable all push notifications and pare down your apps to only the ones you really need.

Days 10-12

Set up a charging station that isn’t in your bedroom. This will help you to avoid reaching for your phone first thing when you wake up and right before you go to bed. You should also try to redirect your energy toward engaging with print books, so pick out some non-electronic stories that you’ll enjoy!


Cultivate phone-free zones. For example, instituting a “no-phone rule“ for the dining table or during mealtimes is a great place to start!

Days 15-16

Practice some basic mindfulness. Whenever you find yourself tempted to reach for your phone, attempt some quick and quiet meditation instead Listen to your breathing and allow yourself to simply stop, focus, and be.

Days 17-18

Try some concentration exercises. Whether you’re simply listening to a song—and refusing to allow yourself to be distracted- -or concentrating on a poem, improving your focus will strengthen your resistance to being distracted by your phone.

Days 19-20

This is your first trial separation. Over two full days (maybe a weekend) simply switch off your phone and don’ t check it. For two solid days. If it helps, you can keep a notebook around to jot down anything you want to look up later.

Days 22-23

Use this time to reflect on your separation— how it made you feel what you missed about your phone, and what you like about phone-free time.

Days 24-26

Use this time to clean up your digital life and remove anything that annoys you. Unsubscribe for junk email lists, unfollow accounts that bring you down, and sort your important emails into folders for easy access.

Days 27-30

Use this time to continue monitoring your phone behaviour. Do you find that you’re now checking your phone less frequently? Are you more intentional about it, consciously keeping track of when you check your phone and why? Cultivate your awareness of these factors and document them by making notes (on paper) about your discoveries.


Price, Catherine: How to Break Up With Your Phone. Trapeze 2019.

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Scudamore, Brian: The Truth About Smartphone Addiction, And How To Beat It

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