If you were watching BBC Breakfast Business News on channel 1 this Monday at around 7.50am you will have spotted our mobile expert and psychologist, Lisa Duddington, talking to Victoria Fritz about why we’re all so addicted to our smartphones and the effect it’s having on our lives. This is because new research by Deloitte confirms that the UK ‘has never been more addicted to smartphones’.
For most people this will confirm something you’ve felt for a while. Just looking around, you’ll have noticed the number of people walking down the street with their head down, engrossed in their digital mobile lives, perhaps you’ve even accidentally bumped into a few of these mobile zombies.
How about you? Do you think you’re addicted to your mobile?
Watch Lisa discussing our mobile addiction on BBC Breakfast (skip to 8 minutes in):
Are you addicted?
It might surprise you to learn that you check your mobile hundreds of times every day. Many of these are micro interactions – a quick press to check the time or to see if you have any unread messages or other alerts.
Our mobile is our constant companion. It’s replaced many other gadgets in our life and the more it replaces, the more we rely on it. It’s now not just a device for calls and texts, it’s our alarm clock that wakes us up first thing in the morning, it’s our sat nav to get us to work, it’s our note pad for reminders, it’s our calendar to organise our day for us, it’s our camera and video recorder to capture important memories, it’s our communication device and our means of accessing the whole world.
The younger generation having grown up with technology are exhibiting the heaviest levels of mobile use. In the generation z research Keep It Usable conducted last year, nearly 40% of young people claimed to use social media and messaging to communicate with friends for more than 6 hours every day. They’re also using ecommerce sites frequently; 27% browse products more than 5 times a day, 14% browse more than 10 times a day! This is a huge opportunity for retailers to convert young consumers using mobile platforms.
Psychology: Why are smartphones so addictive?
So we know we check our phones a lot, but what is it about them that makes us so addicted?
Well, if you think about it, smartphones are designed to get us to check them repeatedly. Every single alert aims to draw our attention to check the device. When we hear an alert we experience a sense of anticipation and even excitement at what we might have received. A new message from a friend makes you feel good and this leads to positive reinforcement, it makes the connection between an alert and the reward (the message) even stronger. This strengthens the connection and behaviour pattern so that it soon becomes a habit.
One of the reasons we feel the need to constantly check our phones is the fear of missing out (FOMO). If we take the example of a message from a friend, it’s very unlikely that we will let that message sit on our mobiles without reading it as it may potentially contain some exciting news or gossip that we feel we must read now or we might miss out!
Or course messages and alerts aren’t always positive like the example described. A lot of the time they’re quite dull and boring – a spam marketing message or a reminder to visit the dentist. However, it’s this mix of positive and negative, of never knowing if an alert will make you feel great or not that keeps us addicted. This is called the variable reward model and it’s exactly the same model that is used in the design of slot machines. The unpredictability of the reward, the anticipation, the never knowing if the end result will be positive or not, the feel good factor of winning / receiving exciting news keeps us addicted. It is this variable reward model that makes them so addictive.
Listen to Lisa discussing why we’re so addicted:
Radio 5 (skip to 20 minutes in)
Radio Scotland (skip to 40 minutes in)
Nomophobia: What is it and do you have it?
Are you aware of where your mobile is at all times? Do you ever have moments of fleeting panic when you can’t see your mobile? When you leave your mobile at home do you feel anxious and feel like a part of you is missing? If you’ve ever lost or had your phone stolen did you experience high feelings of anxiety or depression? If so, you likely have nomophobia.
Nomophobia (no mobile phone phobia) is the fear of not having your mobile with you. It’s very real and is something we’ve probably all experienced at some point in our lives. Unsurprisingly, nomophobia is more prevalent amongst younger people and effects them when they lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage.
How mobile addiction effects our health
One of the surprising and concerning findings from the Deloitte report is that a third of UK adults and half of 18-24 year olds check their mobile phones in the middle of the night. A third checking for messages and a sixth replying to them!
Now to understand the impact of this, we need to look at how the brain reacts to light. Blue light makes the brain think it’s time wake up, red light makes the brain think it’s time to sleep. Blue light suppresses melatonin, it helps with sleep timing and our circadian rhythms. The problem is that this is the same light emitted by our mobile phone screens. Basically, looking at your mobile screen in the middle of the night will make you feel more awake and disrupt your sleep pattern, making you feel much more tired the next day.
Oh and did you know that sleep texting is a thing now? Yes people are now texting during their sleep, posting all sorts of things and not remembering any of it!
Fancy switching off?
If all this is sounding worryingly familiar, don’t worry, there are some simple steps you can take.
Try switching your phone off at night time and if possible don’t use it just before you go to sleep – read a book instead and you’ll find you sleep better, waking up more refreshed.
During the day, try not to check your phone as often (it might help to turn it off for a set time), or have set points in the day where you check your phone and email, this will limit the disruption to your daily work.
If you turn to your phone when commuting or when in a new social situation, try putting your phone away and instead notice the things and the people around you. You might notice new things and find you speak with more people, you might even make new friends.
Feeling brave? Leave your mobile at home for a whole day and see if it has a positive effect on your life.