The extreme use of mobile phones has led to the development of ‘phone addiction’ and nomophobia, fear of going without your phone; textaphobia, fear that you can’t send or receive texts etc. Even though the American Psychological Association does not officially recognize the condition of chronic phone usage or phone addiction, researchers and medical professionals worldwide acknowledge it as a behavioural addiction.
A lot of studies have tried to figure out why we constantly use our phones and what is the motivation for the same.
One of the reasons is FOMO. If you’ve ever caught yourself checking your phone when you are sitting at the dinner table with your parents or having a deep conversation with a friend, then you are familiar with the sudden compulsive, all-consuming feeling. It’s a fear of missing out on something interesting, entertaining or even more important that might just be happening that drives you to check your phone. This feeling of just wanting to know that compels you to use your phone constantly is known as the fear of missing out or FOMO. FOMO refers to the pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent. In simpler terms, it is the feeling of anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be occurring elsewhere. Social media is a major source for FOMO because it has made it easier to be constantly aware of others' experiences. We, humans, have managed to craft our lives around technology, social media specifically. The increasing use of social media facilitates FOMO. The more we check online platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, the happier they are. Companies have found ways to tap into this impulse to keep their users coming back to their apps.
There is another reason for phone addiction: dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good when something meets a survival need. A lot of our activities on our phone like talking to a friend, connecting with people afar, playing games, looking at food or cat videos, are all things that make us happy. Phones cater to our basic need for human connection conveniently and instantly.
According to several studies, the excessive use of smartphones can alter and negatively impact an individual much like a gambling addiction. Phone addiction can lead to sleep deficits. Research conducted in India on medical students revealed that 64% of the students who indulged in excessive use of phones lack a proper sleep cycle. Such addiction can also lead to deprivation in concentration, higher levels of distraction, stress and anxiety. Phone addiction involves constant back and forth texting, and a lot of times if others don’t reply to your texts on time, you might feel hassled. Phone addiction, especially in the younger generation, has impaired relationships between children and their parents. Children or young adults constantly use their phones and their parents complain about the same.
One would wonder how to deal with such strange empty feelings that keep you constantly connected to your phone. The first step to stopping our harmful habits is perhaps knowing why we do it.
An important step is to mindfully take things into your hands to reduce the use of smartphones. One must schedule regular technology breaks to take a detox from social media from time to time if you think you’re getting too dependent or indulgent. Try to not use your phone after dinner. Spend more time with family and friends in the real world instead of the virtual one. When having conversations make sure to not check your phone constantly. Turn off as many push notifications as possible as they can be very distracting.
There are also apps available that boost self-control like Space or Screentime, that help limit daily phone usage of specific apps.
We must understand that it is important to evolve and adapt to the changing environment. Most of the communication in the world cannot occur without mobile phones and other gadgets. However, anything in excess is harmful and phone addiction has its limitations and negative impacts on our well-being and we should take steps to keep ourselves out of this vicious cycle of phone addiction.