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Are smartphones the choice of addiction for the 21st Century?

Date Posted: Thu, 25 Jul, 2019

Are smartphones the choice of addiction for the 21st Century?

By Andrew Mortimer, BBG Deputy Chairman

According to Psychology Today, nomophobia is the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone. Various studies have been conducted to measure the extent of this phobia and its affect on human behaviour and have concluded that approximately 57% of teenagers and 35% of adults check their phone within five minutes of waking while 66% and 38%, respectively, will check their device during the night. Moreover, teenagers will check their phone an average of 90 times during the day while adults will do so 33 times. A combined 74% of survey participants confirm that they look at their phones while walking. (Deloitte, 2017). 

With these statistics in mind let’s take a look at the UK National Health Service's (NHS) definition of an addiction: not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you.

Does this definition cause any alarm bells to thing for you or raise any red flags?

What if we draw parallels between smartphones and cigarettes?

In 1994, the top executives of the seven largest American tobacco firms testified in congress that they did not believe that cigarettes were addictive and harmful (New York Times). Of course, science has proven otherwise and public perception of the tobacco industry has undergone a revolution with both the public and governments demanding that the industry be more transparent and signpost the health risks to public understanding of the effects of smoking on their health. Is a similar fate awaiting the suppliers of popular smartphone content; namely the social media giants, online gaming firms and others in the “e” space? Should it?

There is no easy answer to this and responsibility lies with us all. However, some important steps are now being considered which include:encouraging the design of more ethically responsible persuasive technologies; ensuring the protection of vulnerable users; design and implementation of robust controls on fake news and the detection of underage usage; raising awareness and focus on wellbeing; better 'policing' for appropriate advertising; providing the necessary funding for research to manage/avoid 'addictions' which would include the support of local help groups or addiction clinics; providing transparent reporting on action taken against fake news, underage usage and the use of persuasive technologies.

There is no 'crystal ball' available, but if history offers an insight to the future, the tobacco firms in the 90’s and the banks in the 00’s all underwent the wrath of both the public and government for their apparent failings.

Is the global, connected society's addiction to smartphones likely to dictate a similar fate for those operating in this space?  

In the meantime, I will leave you with a quote I hope will provoke some honest thought about your, and your children's, schedule usage. It is a fascinating quote not because of what it says, but because of who said it: "We limit how much technology our kids use at home." Steve Jobs