Smartphones Create Pervasive but Underestimated Type of Addiction

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As a pervasive but underestimated kind of addiction, smartphones pose a serious threat to society.

In the absence of face-to-face communication, valuable social skills aren’t learned, and in the overflow of information, self-control is lost.

Together, these cultural issues are compounding to cause a sweeping epidemic: smartphone addiction.

And it’s worse than many people give it credit.

“What’s interesting is that the body and the brain respond pretty much the same way to these experiences,” author Adam Alter said of drug or alcohol addiction and smartphone addiction in a Knowledge@Wharton podcast.

“You see the same release of dopamine, which is a chemical in the brain that makes us feel good. And you see the same behavioral responses.”


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Alter wrote Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, relating the observations that smartphones have quickly become the backbone for young people’s social lives.

“If you only interact with people online, you bully, you send out all sorts of bad vibes and never really get the feedback,” he said. “You never learn to empathize. You never learn what it feels like to hurt someone.”

To combat the epidemic, Alter recommends you unplug from technology for at least three hours a day, tone down the barrage of signals by turning sounds and push notifications off, and use a demetricator that translates “100 likes” into simply “You have likes.”

“You can make them a little less potent,” Alter wrote. “Make sure that the phone isn’t telling you when to pick it up, that you’re deciding it’s time for me to pick it up.”

Read more about smartphone addiction and how to combat it on Knowledge@Wharton here.

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Top photo credit: yualbert Phubber via photopin (license)

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