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Striking a Balance Between Heavy Smartphone Use & Addiction

Experts say those who can't live without phones are addicted

Jeff Parrott Staff Reporter
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I just want to be more intentional with my time and not waste it on my phone because that’s lame.
- Mackenzie Weisweaver


About a year ago, Mackenzie Weisweaver started to feel like her boyfriend Cory didn’t love her because she wasn’t getting enough of his attention.

“My love language is quality time and when he would be on his phone or constantly checking it every time he got a notification, it took the quality out of the time,” said Weisweaver, a 25-year-old probation officer.

So she asked him to spend a little less time on his phone while realizing she also needed to do so. Initially, she deleted all of her social media apps - Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. But, jokingly, she recalled that that lasted only a week or two before she reinstalled Snapchat and Facebook, and, later, Instagram. However, she turned off her notifications, leading to a reduction in her screen time, which she monitors on Apple’s settings.

“Before every time I got a Facebook notification, I would scroll through and now that I don’t get 17 popups from them, I don’t get on Facebook all that much,” Weisweaver said. “Still daily but four to five times a day instead of like 20.”

Young adults using phones more

Weisweaver said things are better now with Cory and she tracks her screen time to make sure things stay that way.

“I just want to be more intentional with my time and not waste it on my phone because that’s lame,” she said.

She’s not alone in spending more time on her phone. In a January 2019 survey, 48% of people age 18 to 29 said they go online almost constantly, a 9% increase from a year prior, according to the Pew Research Center.

Whether it’s streaming music, connecting with friends on social media or consuming news, people are on their phones more than ever and are increasingly trying to determine when frequent smartphone use grows into over-reliance or addiction. Declining performance at school, work or home can sometimes indicate that the line has been crossed, said Nathan Driskell, a licensed therapist in Houston.

Real-World Problems

An even bigger sign is problems maintaining real-world relationships, said Driskell, author of two books, “Is Your Child Addicted to Electronics,” and “Internet Addiction: Kicking the Habit.”

“Many of my clients who are addicted to smartphones and electronics do not know how to have in-depth conversations, with many not having any real-world friends,” Driskell said. “As most online relationships are limited to specific activities, like playing games, real-world friendships and relationships are happening less and less. This leads to isolation, loneliness, and situational depression. Over time, the mental and physical health of smartphone addicts decline.”

Users encouraged to use less

Alarmed by the trends, former Google product manager Tristan Harris in 2013 began pushing a new concept, “Time Well Spent,” aimed at persuading tech companies to develop and encourage the use of new features to distract users less and reduce their phone time. Some tech industry observers expected a major debate to follow, but the opposite happened. By the middle of 2018, Facebook, Apple, and Google had added such features.

Consequently, Driskell said the problem is worsening and he expects that will continue as long as tech firms monetize their platforms with advertising.

“The goal of these companies is to be an active part of your entire day,” Driskell said. “They want to own your time, your data, and you. The less time you spend online, the less money these companies make in advertising revenue. Anything contrary to this is public relations work to bring the company goodwill. It is your responsibility to control what data you send out and how much time you spend online. No company will ever be a viable gatekeeper for you.”

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Striking a Balance Between Heavy Smartphone Use & Addiction

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