Are you addicted to your smartphone?

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

When you read the headline to this post did you immediately feel guilty? If so, you may be one of the people who’s suffering from smartphone addiction….

Before I went to bed last night, I spent five minutes on my French lesson. I’m using Duolingo which I’ll be augmenting with a tutor in the new year. According to DL, I’m currently 61% fluent in French, which I think is a bit of a joke. (That’s either une blague or une plaisanterie; I’ll tell you more after my tutoring.) But at least the software is keeping my nose to the grindstone. I haven’t missed a day in more than 11 weeks. Formidable!

Anyway, following my French work, I wandered over to the New York Times and became caught up in the stories about Matt Lauer’s, appalling behaviour. Before I knew what had happened, it was 11:15 pm and I was late for sleep.

I don’t typically let my smartphone lead me by the nose, as I did last night, but many others do. Did you know that at least 81 percent of American adults (18+) now own a smartphone and they spend an average of two hours and 51 minutes on it every day? And, Americans across all age groups check their phones 46 times per day, according to Deloitte. That’s up from 33 looks per day in 2014.

Perhaps this type of obsession is not surprising since many people use smartphones as their alarm clocks and then eagerly check them for texts, email and news upon waking up. And many anonymous surveys show the majority of people regularly use their smartphone while on the toilet. (Depending on which survey you check, stats range from 38 to 75 percent.)

But the statistics become alarming when you consider smartphone use while driving:

  • The US National Safety Council reports that phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
  • Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
  • One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
  • Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.

While many people value the chance to keep track of friends and family (especially teenage children) it’s also apparent that “urgent” communications are not what’s driving the trend toward extreme smartphone use. For example, look at time we spend on social media alone. The majority of it (40 minutes) goes to YouTube (crazy cat videos, anyone?), closely followed by Facebook (35 minutes) followed by Snapchat (25 minutes). Instagram (15 minutes) and Twitter (1 minute) bring up the rear.

But here’s the sobering part of the statistic: Over their lifetime, most people will spend five years and four months on social media. (In comparison, we spend only three years and five months eating.)

So, what else could you do in five years and four months? Well, you could walk your dog 93,000 times, climb Mt. Everest 32 times or write five 80,000 word books. (You knew I was going to relate this to writing, right?) The heart of the problem is that checking our smartphone feels good. (Walking your dog for that long, climbing Mt. Everest that many times or writing a book, not so much.)

The culprit is a neurotransmitter in our brains called dopamine. Dopamine motivates us to seek pleasurable rewards — like eating premium chocolate or double cream brie or, even, looking for more “likes” on Facebook or new emails/texts from friends. How does Facebook compete with chocolate, you ask?

All of us are hardwired to enjoy the “hunt” for new information. We’re built this way. We also value being recognized by others (the FB “like”) and we enjoy feeling part of a larger social group. Pursuing these activities releases dopamine, which makes us feel good, so we want do it more often.

Anyway, if your smartphone use concerns you or if you’d like to get more writing done in the new year, I suggest you check to see if you might be an addict. Take this quiz and consider your score. (I was relieved to find I ranked in the bottom 30 percent of all scores.)

And if you’re serious about producing a book or a blog (or a thesis or an essay), think about repurposing some of your smartphone time to writing. You might also consider getting a dopamine squirt by using my no-charge secret sauce: a tracking record for your writing. Honestly, it will make you feel far more accomplished than spending 40 minutes on YouTube.

Did you know that Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey does not start his day by looking at his smartphone? Instead, he starts at 5 a.m. by meditating for 30 minutes and then follows that with his daily workout.

Even the guys who are intent on addicting you to your smartphone don’t let it happen to them.

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My video podcast last week offered three minutes of advice on how to write better blog posts. (Or see the transcript and consider subscribing to my YouTube account.) If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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How would you describe your relationship with your smartphone? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to D.N. Frost, the winner of this month’s book prize, Metaphorically Selling by Anne Miller for a Nov. 14/17 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Dec. 31/17 will be put in a draw for a copy of Becoming an Academic Writer, by Patricia Goodson. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted December 5th, 2017 in Power Writing

  • Aurore

    Chère Daphné,
    Les chiffres cités sont affligeants ! Quel temps perdu !!
    Une fois de plus, vous nous proposez un article intéressant et bien documenté. Savez-vous que vous êtes la seule blogueuse que je suis (du verbe “suivre” …Ah les confusions possibles de la langue française) depuis 2 ans?

    Je suis ravie de savoir que vous étudiez la langue de Molière. C’est formidable ! 😉

    Sorry to all English readers… I could not resist to check Daphné’s fluency in French ! 😉

    • Chère Aurore,

      Merci pour vos aimables remarques. Je suis d’accord que les chiffres sont très affligeants. Je prends du réconfort en sachant que je suis capable d’ignorer mon smartphone. (Y a-t-il un idionme français pour “smartphone”?)

      Je dois avouer que je n’ai jamais été fan de Molière mais j’ai longtemps admiré Stendhal et Balzac. Ce serait un coup pour moi de lire leurs livres dans la langue dans laquelle ils ont été écrits!

  • sthrendyle

    Here is where, I think, the ‘rub’ lies with many freelancers. Computers and smartphones allow us to be “always on”. I would call a large part of my day “mining” for nuggets of useful information that might lead to jobs and assignments. When I’m busy and steady work (hah!) is coming in, I don’t look at it much, other than Facebook posting. But, you are right, time spent on social media (which, realistically is what we are talking about when we are talking smartphone use) is time you could spend on other productive endeavours. BTW, I despise texting and would far rather call someone, though it is handy on a ski slope (if the battery doesn’t die). And yeah, dopamine, well, that’s Instagram, alright. Twitter just looks like a black hole time suck for someone who has ADHD, so I avoid it like the plague. What I’m searching for when I’m scrolling through e-mails at dinner is The Big Hit. Where I’ve sent out ideas/proposals and an editor or client is getting back at me with a YES. And that’s not happening quite as much as it used to. But, well, media…

    • My suggestion, Steve, is to train yourself to check your phone no more than X times per day. (I’ll let you determine the X!) If you need to develop more work, isn’t it better to sit yourself down at your desktop and work for an hour or two, mining ideas? The idea of being constantly “on” and “responsible” isn’t good for your health, either mental or physical.

  • This is TRUTH and I hope everyone pays attention, even if they don’t think they’re addicted. I have never brought my iPhone or digital devices (except Kindle) to my bedroom, but when I realized that I was looking down at my phone when my husband was trying to have a conversation with me (and I notice this with others), I recognized a problem. I have been diligent about limiting my phone time ever since. Multitasking is a myth, and those we love (or those projects that are important to us) deserve our undivided attention. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • We have a rule in our house: no cellphones at the diningroom table. If anyone “needs” to check a phone during dinner, they have to step away. My brother-in-law objects to this rule quite strenuously but even my kids follow it now…

  • LJ

    I’m spending far more time on my phone than before the election. I’ve needed solace from others to endure what he’s doing to our country—and you don’t know what he’s going to do next.
    Texting allows me to connect with my millennial kids although I’d rather hear their voices–and try to once/week.
    As for writing, I’m finding that I will want to research something on- line while I’m writing–but don’t want to get caught up in wasting time checking something else. Any advice on that is appreciated!

    • Ah, I do have some advice for that issue: Write yourself promissory notes. For example, when you encounter a fact you need to look up, or something that you need to check (for example, the spelling of a person’s name) then put a note in square brackets directly in your story, like this [FIND # OF PEOPLE WHO SPEND FIVE HOURS A DAY ON THEIR PHONE] or [CHECK SPELLING OF NAME.] If you do all these tasks, AFTER you’ve finished writing, you’ll do them far faster and you won’t get derailed! I hope this helps you!

      • LJ

        Yes, I like that approach. I was sort of doing that but not consistently–so glad you’ve tried it and found that it works!

        • Oh, make it a habit. It really works! I have saved myself so much time this way and so have many of my clients!

  • Jennifer Henn

    I too can get caught and spend more time than I intended, but most the time, I don’t remember where it is. 😮

    • I always phone myself when I can’t find mine. This works unless I’ve turned the ringer off!

  • Jagadish Kumar

    Though not the first thing in the morning and may not be the last at night, I think I have to first accept my longing for dopamine in between as the first step to overcome this desire that comes out of greed. Kind people like Daphne could help us in this regard. Thank you for your worthy advice and thanks in advance for all the help we are going to get from you.

    • Hmm, I’m not sure the desire for dopamine comes out of greed. I think we’re just all hardwired to behave in certain ways. Glad to hear you have succumbed the the first-thing-in-the-morning-and-last-thing-at-night phenomenon, Jagadish!

      • Jagadish Kumar

        Hardwired to behave in certain ways — very nicely put. Thank you, Daphne.

  • David Carlson

    Any social gathering, and even a visit to the doctor’s office, often includes the question, “Do I use a smartphone?”. My answer, “My smartphone isn’t very smart.” My wife and I must have a cellphone turned on while doing yard work, or out for a wilderness hike.
    A year ago, she fell while shoveling snow on our 32 steps down to the boathouse. She broke her femur. Temperature -10F, windchill -40. If I had not looked out the window, she might have died, because I was about to leave for the day for a class 40 miles away.

    I spend too much time simply getting rid of daily gmail notifications using up all the memory on my smartphone. Automatic updates to apps I do not use, and did not know I had. The smartphone never is my preferred social media device, but I insist on knowing how it works. Likewise my Fire Tablet for reading Amazon Prime books has become an obsessive need to learn everything it can do.

    My laptop PC is my primary social media device. I spend at least four hours a day using it. I have not spent four hours any day on the five blogs I started seven years years ago. I have forgotten how to post on WordPress.

    As for learning French, Alex Trebeck kills my desire. His Canadian French sounds nothing like I heard it spoken in Provence.

    • Stop listening to Alex Trebeck! There are so many beautiful French voices and accents. It’s a gorgeous language! (Glad you were able to save your wife, David!)

  • Kevin

    I guess every generation has their technological addiction.
    For my parents generation it was radio. For me and other boomers it is television. For the millennials it seems to be smartphones.
    Change is inevitable, but I can’t help feeling the urge to reach for my selfie stick and knock those devices out of the hands of people who walk into traffic, into walls, and into people while using them. LOL.

    • You are quite right, Kevin, that every generation has its own technological addiction. But I do think that cellphones are worse. Their portability makes them extra compelling, and, to my mind, extra distracting and dangerous. We’re all essetially carrying TVs (youtube) and radios (podcasts) in our pockets all the time!

      • Kevin

        I agree. Not to mention the damage we’re doing to our eyes as well.