Sixty-eight percent of adult Americans sleep with their cellphones next to their beds. A majority text or talk while driving. A Harris Interactive poll shows that a third check their phones during movies. Twenty percent do this during church. Nearly 10 percent have admitted to checking their phones during intimate moments. Some take selfies with the dearly departed at funerals. And a new trend of taking a selfie while on the toilet, aka the “poopie,” has emerged.
So is there such a thing as cellphone addiction?
Cellphone addiction is in the same family as other technology addictions, such as computers and gaming, which are all part of a larger family of behavioral addictions (to gambling, exercise, sex, etc.). Anything that can produce pleasure in your brain has the potential of becoming addictive. Loss of control is the essential element of any addiction.
Research has identified the “six signs” of any type of substance or behavioral addiction. Those six signs – salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse – apply to cellphone addiction as well.
Are you addicted?
Read the definitions of each of the six signs below and then agree or disagree with the following statements. By the time you’ve completed this task, you will have a better idea of whether you’ve reached your tipping point when it comes to your cellphone use.
A behavior becomes salient when it is deeply integrated into your daily routine.
1. The first thing I reach for after waking in the morning is my cellphone.
2. I would turn around and go back home on the way to work if I had left my cellphone at home.
Who knows what the beep, buzz, whistle, or stylized ringtone might have in store for you? The feeling of anticipation or excitement that precedes and/or follows the use of your cellphone is a mood modification that can result in euphoria.
3. I often use my cellphone when I am bored.
4. I have pretended to take calls to avoid awkward social situations.
As in the case of drug and alcohol abuse, tolerance addresses the need for an ever-increasing “dose” of the behavior to achieve the desired “high.”
5. I find myself spending more and more time on my cellphone.
6. I spend more time than I should on my cellphone.
The feelings of irritability, stress, anxiousness, desperation, and even panic that often occur when you are separated from your cellphone are good examples of withdrawal symptoms.
7. I become agitated or irritable when my cellphone is out of sight.
8. I have gone into a panic when I thought I had lost my cellphone.
A common outcome of cellphone addiction is conflict. Do your spouse or children complain that you are always on your phone? Do you allow texts, calls, and e-mails to spoil your vacations and personal time? Are your work activities interrupted by playing games, visiting Facebook, and countless other forms of entertainment offered on your cellphone?
9. I have argued with my spouse, friends, or family about my cellphone use.
10. I use my cellphone while driving my car.
When we acknowledge that our cellphone use may be undermining our well-being, we attempt to stop. But then we slip back. We relapse.
11. I have tried to curb my cellphone use, but the effort didn’t last very long.
12. I need to reduce my cellphone use, but am afraid I can’t do it.
Are you addicted?
It’s time to see if you have crossed the tipping point from reasonable cellphone use to a potentially addictive habit. To calculate your score, simply add up the number of “agree” responses to each of the 12 statements and check the results.
8 + “Agrees”
You need a reservation at the Betty Ford Clinic for habitual cellphone users.
You have crossed the tipping point and are moving quickly to full-blown cellphone addiction.
You have not yet reached your tipping point, but need to carefully assess how your cellphone is influencing your life.
You are either living in a monastery or have the patience and self-restraint of a monk. Alternatively, technology simply scares you.
Since cellphones (in some form) are likely here to stay, we all need to reach some kind of digital détente as how best to relate with the 21st-century equivalent of the security blanket. I am not so bold as to suggest that you go “cold turkey,” but we must all set aside times where we unplug from our digital devices and plug into what really matters – friends, family, and being in the moment.
Try it. You might like it.
James Roberts is the Ben H. Williams professor of marketing at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. He has spent much of his professional career studying the “dark side” of consumer behavior, including widely publicized research on cellphone addiction. Roberts’s book “Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy,” was published in 2011.