To appreciate this phenomenon, it’s important to realize how ubiquitous smartphones are in our lives. According to a 2015 Pew Research report, almost two-thirds of American adults now own smartphones and use them to explore the internet regularly. Younger people, under age 29 are the most frequent users, and 90% of the youngest adults between ages 18 and 24 check their phones every hour for messages from friends or co-workers.
Over two-thirds of all adults are finding health information with smartphones, and over 50% are conducting banking transactions, and indicate that they would need their smartphone to handle life emergency situations.
We’re sharing pictures with one another, participating in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, downloading apps to help us navigate while we drive, and playing games on our smartphones. Smartphone use happens everywhere – during commutes to and from work, in the bathroom, and in the bed. Yes, that’s correct, 71% of respondents to a recent Bank of America survey reported that they sleep with their smartphones!
Negative Feelings Associated with Heavy Smartphone Usage
It’s clear that many Americans are reliant, and even addicted to their smartphones. While the technology has become integral to so many aspects of our lives, this reliance begs the question – is there a darker side to dependence on smartphone technology? Numerous studies reveal feelings of pressure, isolation, and stress among the heaviest smartphone users.
A CBS study from November 2015, for example, reveals that Millennials have several worries about smartphones. It states that over 80 percent “…worry that if they don’t keep up with the latest technologies, they’ll be less employable. That’s compared with 77 percent of adults across all age groups.”
Indiana State University psychology professor, Dr. Virgil Sheets, suggests what others have suspected. The need to be up-to-date with social media fosters a tendency to compare oneself to others. Heavy smartphone users ask themselves, “Am I keeping up with my peers?” “Are they reading my posts?” “Do they value me?” If these questions cannot be answered affirmatively, many feel the pressure to foster their online social connections.
It would seem that smartphones connect people then, right? Well, yes and no. Certainly they facilitate interactions with friends and acquaintances, but not necessarily at a level that creates emotional satisfaction. Scientific American confirmed this a few years ago when it cited a University of Essex research project by Przybylski and Weinstein. These researchers found that just having a mobile phone nearby while conversing with others interferes with establishing a personal connection with another person. “The presence of the cell phone had no effect on relationship quality, trust, and empathy, but only if the pair discussed the causal topic,”
If you’re chatting about the weather with a friend, that is, your smartphone may not detract from the social interaction. However, if you are discussing important plans, or deeper topics, rapport can suffer because of the potential distraction of a call or app notification. In these situations, presence of your smarthpone results in less connection with the other person, or increased isolation. As a recent CBS survey found, 88 percent of smartphone users claim that the technology has “brought them closer to people,” but at the same time opined their relationships overall would be less “authentic” in the future.
Smartphone apps can make one more productive by facilitating all types of business and communications tasks. If you consider that video viewing and other visual entertainment smartphone applications have grown in popularity recently, it becomes clear that our smartphones are keeping our brains very, very busy. Nielsen Media Research found that most people used about 26.8 smarthpone apps each month in 2013, and confirms the time we spend doing this is increasing. Americans are multitasking like never before with their smartphones.
Multitaskers may have moments of satisfaction completing several tasks while watching TV or commuting to work, but that is frequently offset with feelings of stress. Scientists explain that the human brain isn’t really built for multitasking. Consider what Stanford University Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication, has to say about it: “Research shows that multitasking lessens your ability to focus on what is relevant. Your phone makes you feel like you have to respond, which then increases your stress and harms your cognitive thinking.”
If smartphone use is adding to our feelings of pressure, stress, and isolation in life, what should we do about it? In a phrase – we need to take control of how we use technology, rather than let the technology control us. Above all, be aware of how smartphone technology is affecting your mood. Make conscious decisions as to when and how you will use your smartphone. Don’t be constantly pulled in out of habit or impulse. Technology can make our lives better. Increasing the awareness of how smartphones affect our moods is part of that effort.