The growing problem of smartphone addiction and what to do about it
By Tshering Cigay. Published in his weekly tech column in Kuensel on 29th September 2021
What is smartphone addiction?
Smartphone addiction is a disorder involving compulsive overuse of the mobile devices. It is a growing problem globally today, and is linked to depression and anxiety in many people, including children.
Smartphones have become crucial part of our everyday life today, and using smartphones smartly is good, but compulsive use can interfere with work, school, and relationships. “When you spend more time on social media or playing games than you do interacting with real people, or you can’t stop yourself from repeatedly checking texts, emails, or apps—even when it has negative consequences in your life—it may be time to reassess your technology use,” according to helpguide.org.
Smartphone addiction encompasses a variety of impulse-control problems, including addiction to social media and virtual relationships, compulsive web surfing, watching videos, playing games, or checking news feeds, compulsive use of Internet pornography, sexting, nude-swapping, or adult messaging services, and compulsive gaming, gambling, stock trading, online shopping, or bidding on auction.
Picture courtesy: Internet
Do you suffer from Nomophobia?
Nomophobia is an abbreviation of ‘no mobile phobia’. It is the fear of being without your mobile phone. Studies have found that many people suffer from nomophobia. They find it difficult to function without their phone by their side. In a study, approximately 72% of people said they are rarely more than five feet away from their handset at any time.
A person named Rinchen Pelden was quoted by BBS news on 15th July 2021 as saying thus: “I use my phone as soon as I get free time. Now that we have unlimited data, I end up using my phone almost all night. We even forget to check the time while using the phone. I feel abnormal when I don’t use my phone”.
If you think you have the tendency to suffer from nomophobia, you should try to overcome it by going without your phone for certain periods of time every day. For instance, at a Techstars APAC Summit in Singapore few years ago, it was mandatory to go for the closing gala dinner without your mobile phones. This made the participants talk and interact more with each other instead of spending time on their phones by themselves. People also do digital detox on their own by staying offline for certain periods of time.
How big is the smartphone addiction problem in Bhutan?
No comprehensive study has been done yet to ascertain the problem, but there is no doubt a growing overuse of smartphones by all people, especially children.
At a parent teacher meeting in a school recently, there was a unanimous request from the parents to the school authority not to send notes or homework through digital platform such as Google classroom or messenger. All parents shared that the children take their phones on the pretext of doing the homework or copying the notes and often waste their time playing games.
BBS reported on 15th July 2021 that the national referral hospital in Thimphu has been seeing increasing number of cases of Computer Vision Syndrome recently as a result people spending more time on digital screens. The hospital sees almost 30 cases a day. It must be the reason why we see many young kids wearing thick glasses these days.
In informal conversations, many parents share how difficult it is to keep their children away from smartphones. Children crave smartphones more than any other games or toys. So, some parents just let them use it whenever they want it. It is these children who suffer the consequences either in the form of eye problems or inadequate development of social skills because they spend most of their time on phones instead of interacting with other people face to face. Some parents have made strict rules on when children get to use their phones (say only for certain number of hours on weekends) and stick with it. Children eventually become used to it, say these parents.
Problem of unrestricted access to smartphones do not stop just with eye problem and wasting time. There is huge risk of our children accessing inappropriate content such as porn or getting in touch with dangerous personalities online. Unrestricted access to online porn sites in Bhutan is a major issue which needs deliberation and decision in the interest of our children.
Negative impacts of smartphone overuse/addiction
Overusing smartphones has many negative side effects such as eye problem, loss of productivity at work or study, loss of personal and social contact with close friends and relatives, lack of physical exercise, weight gain etc.
It can lead to loneliness and depression. A 2014 study found a correlation between high social media usage and depression and anxiety. It can also diminish your ability to concentrate and think deeply or creatively.
Excessive smartphone use can disrupt your sleep, which can have a serious impact on your overall mental health and productivity at work or study. “It can impact your memory, affect your ability to think clearly, and reduce your cognitive and learning skills,” according to sources.
What can we do about it?
An article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine” by psychiatrist Anna Lembke describes how a bright and thoughtful young man in his early 20s, came to see her for debilitating anxiety and depression as a result of his addiction to video games. She describes how her patient improved after giving up videogames for a month on her advice. Later, he was even able to return to playing videogames without negative effects, by strictly limiting his playing time to no more than two days a week, for two hours a day.
“He avoided videogames that were too potent, the ones that he couldn’t stop playing once he started. He designated one laptop for gaming and a different one for school, to keep gaming and classwork physically separated. Finally, he committed to playing only with friends, never with strangers, so that gaming strengthened his social connections. Human connection itself is a potent and adaptive source of dopamine.” She says.
Therefore, all I can say is follow the example of the young man in this story. Restrict the number of hours you spend online, either on smartphone, tablet or a computer. For children, it is always better have clear rules about when they can get to use their smartphones or computer, and for how long, and enforce them strictly. Otherwise, the ill-effects of this addiction will get the better of you and your family.