The Dark Side of Smartphone Use




First the first time in many years, we are confirming our suspicions that we’ve reached a saturation point when it comes to our relationship with technology. While we know that technology makes us unquestionably more productive and adds incredible value to our enjoyment, there is a dark side that is causing real harm. 

“Nomophobia”, the fear of being without a smartphone is becoming a problem we see everyday. This is fueled by an internet overuse/addiction problem and is growing with subsequent generations as habits are being formed at an incredibly early age. 

Rarely, the physical smartphone, tablet, or console is the culprit for the abnormally high hours spent on these devices, rather, it is the software, apps, and content that is interacted with that results in addictive tendencies. 

Let's dive into a host of impulse-control problems that arise from smartphone use;

Online compulsions: 

Widespread accessibility to gaming, gambling, online shopping, currency/stock trading, or electronic bidding allow the user to significantly lower the barrier to entry for habits that can quickly become addictive, life-altering habits. It is common for these tendencies to lead to real life ramifications regarding personal finances, job-related performance, and academic performance.

Gambling is a well understood addiction that has been a problem for decades; however, having the surges of dopamine (the “feel good chemical” that is what keeps addicts coming back) within a couple clicks results in potentially disastrous effects.  Additionally, compulsive currency and stock trading contains many of the same elements of internet gambling (for novice traders at least), but a guise of financial responsibility or industriousness can cloak an underlying problem (think Bitcoin boom). Online compulsions are seen very easily with a competitive marketplace such as eBay or other platforms. Online bidding platforms intentionally result in overpaid items that are occasionally otherwise entirely undesirable. 

Virtual relationships. 

Social media companies have nearly perfectly the “endless scroll” feature as well as dozens of other features that hack our biology to keep users glued to their platforms. These addictions to social networks, dating apps, and messaging platforms frequently extend to the point where virtual friends and relationships become more important than their “real life” counterparts (think about when you go to a restaurant a table of family or friends is glued to their devices and zero interaction is exchanged within the group). This topic is especially of concern for the future of virtual reality.

The appeals of online friendships are clear; they exist within a bubble and are not subject to the same demands or stressors as complex, messy, multi-faceted real-world relationships. In regards to dating - relationships that whose presence is primarily online focus on a short-term, transnational basis which results in higher tendencies to view people as disposable, a means to an end, and ultimately a method to service their satisfactions. 

Cybersex addiction. 

Compulsive interaction and use of pornography, sexting, and other explicit content and services has documented ramifications on your emotional health and real-life relationships. Between the relative anonymity, accessibility, and convenience of what is offered through smartphones, users can spend hours consuming content that reflect fantasies that severely inhibit healthy real-life relationships. Vast amounts of research is exposing the effects on internet pornography causing lower libido, erectile dysfunction, and decreased testosterone levels.

Lowered Productivity

An overloaded stimuli from constant web surfing, watching videos, playing games, browsing social profiles, and checking news feeds has a direct result in lowered productivity within workplace environments. Over $806B in labor productivity is lost annually from smartphone usage on the job. Additionally, compulsive smartphone use causes neglect in other areas outside of the workplace including academic pursuits, relationships, hobbies, and social pursuits. 

A deeper dive into the effects of smartphones

Heavy smartphone usage can often be symptomatic and pointing towards a host of underlying problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, loneliness, or other mental health conditions. In many cases, however, compulsive smartphone usage can exacerbate these problems and augment the undesired feelings furthermore. 

Social isolation is crippling to humans, as we crave the face-to-face connection of a “tribe”. Many of the conveniences that smartphones offer emulate the underlying social needs we crave, but end up leaving us isolated and bombarded with examples of why we are living insufficient lives. 

Unlike a the impulse-control problems with a laptop or desktop computer, the portability, size, and convenience of smartphones means we can satiate our compulsions at any time. Similar to many addictive substances, smartphone triggers the release of dopamine, a “feel good” chemical that is released by the body. These small hits of dopamine released throughout the day results in a tolerance being built up. This means we require more screentime and the content we watch/read/listen to needs to be of higher standards to derive the same pleasurable reward.

The negative impacts of smartphone addiction are clear - it's just a matter of us making conscious choices to put down our devices.