Nearly everyone in America has a smartphone. People can be seen browsing through social media while on the train, text messaging friends at work, and playing games while waiting in line at the store. While the widespread usage of smartphones has certainly made life more convenient, has it become more of an addiction than a helpful tool?
According to a new poll from the American Psychological Association, nine out of 10 people feel compelled to constantly check their digital devices. Whether it be email, text messages or social media, 90 percent of Americans admit to constantly or often checking their smartphones for notifications.
“Our access to our technology, particularly our mobile technology, is very positively reinforcing and so we keep coming back for more,” said Vaile Wright, a psychologist part of the team at the American Psychological Association that designed the survey.
Succumbing to digital addiction may also be the cause of stress. In this same survey, nearly one-fifth of Americans claim that their smartphone is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.
The “constant checker” is one who is connected to their digital device almost always, and this encompasses 43 percent of Americans. During the work day, they can be found on their smartphone 45 percent of the time. These constant checkers also report higher stress levels, with an average score of 5.5 on a scale of one to 10. They also report feeling disconnected from their family and friends, with 44 percent claiming to feel somewhat removed even when with their family in person.
“While we know that technology can be helpful in many ways, this need to be constantly connected could have negative consequences to our physical and mental health,” said Wright. “The information overload and notifications actually impair our ability to concentrate. They make us less productive. They make us feel not really present. So people report feeling disconnected from others.”
Interestingly, these same people believe that it can be beneficial to unplug from technology. Almost two-thirds of people recognize that disconnecting from the digital world can be beneficial to their mental health; however, only 28 percent have done so. The majority continue to check their digital devices without fail, even when at social gatherings or work functions.
“If the idea of leaving your cellphone at home for a day causes panic, that’s important data that you might be more constantly connected to your device than you’re aware,” Wright states. She recommends leaving the device in a pocket or purse when out to dinner with friends to keep it out of sight, because “it’s actually important to not just rely on willpower.”
If the addiction is so strong that a person feels as if they are going through withdrawal without their phone, it is recommended that they go through an actual physical separation. Everything will be still there in an hour or two, or even after an entire day.
Does that thought inspire a wave of panic? It may be time to unplug.