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Opinions of Thursday, 17 August 2017

Columnist: TechAddiction

Growing problem of smartphone addiction

We are so dependent on our smartphones that we often joke about being addicted. However, what many people still fail to realise is that smartphone addiction is actually a very real problem affecting thousands across the globe.

One in ten smartphone users now admit to using their phones in the shower and during sex. The same figures even show that half of people use phones while driving.

It's already an enormous problem, but smartphone addiction is likely to grow even more common due to the rising demand for and access to the handsets. That is not to mention the rapid advances in the technology that allow them to perform more duties at even faster speeds.

So what do you need to know about the causes of smartphone addiction and how to fight it?

How do people become addicted to their phones?

Smartphones give us the ability to connect with our friends and family, to news and entertainment, to all kinds of websites with just a tap of a touch screen. In short, they have become a crucial part of everyday life.

However, overusing the product in such a fashion is the main reason people are becoming addicted. Some find it difficult to function without their phone by their side. Approximately 72% of people said they are rarely more than five feet away from their handset at any time.

This is what is known as nomophobia (an abbreviation of no mobile phobia): the fear that being away from your phone somehow disconnects you from the world.

As with many forms of addiction, smartphone addiction is also something that often stems from other underlying emotional and psychological issues. It can be a side effect of depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Overuse of a handset can be a crutch that people with post-traumatic stress, attention deficit and social anxiety lean on too.

The consequences of smartphone addiction

Smartphone addiction, particularly among children, is altering the way we interact with one another. A member of a civic group in South Korea asked a classroom of 10-year-old students to compare the hours they spend on their smartphones with the time they spend interacting with relatives.

She found a disturbing gap between the amount of digital and human interaction they were engaging in.

The consequences of this are very serious. Human interaction helps a child to develop emotionally and behaviourally in a way that communicating over smartphone cannot. It allows a child to see a person's emotional reaction and distinguish between what are good actions and bad actions. Texting, talking or social networking over a smartphone cannot accomplish this.

Adults are no less likely to become addicted to their smartphones though, and the costs are no less destructive. Staring at a screen, for instance, prevents the brain from releasing something that is called melatonin, our natural sleep chemical.

As a result, our bodies don't register that we are tired. Overuse of smartphones, therefore, leads to interrupted sleeping patterns and means that we do not function as well throughout the day, affecting our abilities to work.

Fighting back against smartphone addiction

The first step to beating smartphone addiction is acknowledging you have it. But how do we know if we are addicted to our phones? After all, smartphone addiction is difficult to identify as we all use our phones so frequently.

The line between the need to use a device and being addicted to it is very thin. However, there is some telltale symptoms that those concerned about it should be aware of.

One that many people may have experienced is known as phantom cell phone vibration; when our body has become conditioned to expect some kind of smartphone interaction, so much so that we imagine the sensation of a vibration.

More importantly, though, how do you combat smartphone addiction if you do in fact suffer from it? In South Korea, one of the most heavily affected countries in the world, the Science Ministry now require schools to teach classes on internet addiction with a particular focus on smartphones.

They also organise holidays free of technology in an attempt to detach students from their handsets.

In a culture that almost demands being connected to the internet, smartphone addiction is just as difficult to combat as it is to identify. Many people will be able to use the technology we have at our fingertips in a way that is useful, be it for communication or entertainment, without letting it become a problem.

However, if you are spending more time talking to your Twitter friends than your actual friends, if you are more interested in engrossing yourself in the world of a smartphone game than real life, perhaps it's time to take some small steps towards preventing or managing what could be an addiction.