Smartphone Addiction and Men

It’s not news that smartphones are addictive. There have been many studies that have validated the seductive lure of smartphones. One study noted that 47% of people in a large survey admit that they are addicted. 71% check their phones within 10 minutes of waking. 45% say that their phone is their most valuable possession, and on average Americans check their phones 344 times a day. That’s over 20 times in each waking hour, or once every 3 minutes. And that’s an average!
There is not much gender difference when it comes to addiction. If anything, women and girls are slightly more addicted than men. But there are gender differences when it comes to the kind of content users consult on their phone. Men tend to seek news, information, and sites connected to their occupation or business (and dating!) while women tend to look for ways to maintain and enhance personal connection. Age is a factor too; older people tend not to look at their phones as much as younger people.
I confess that even as an older person I feel at least somewhat addicted to my smartphone (which is an Android; men tend to prefer Android). I may not check it 344 times a day, but I checked frequently for emails and I check news sites regularly to see if anything new or noteworthy has happened. God forbid I miss something! As a blogger and writer, I suppose checking for news qualifies as work-related searching. Notably, I don’t use social media. I don’t check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tiktok—apps that, by their creators’ own admission, are designed to be addictive. I do like puzzles, especially word puzzles, and do several routinely every day. And I listen to classical music on YouTube and read books on Kindle on my phone. Interestingly, those do not seem to be addictive activities.
Recently I’ve been trying to break the siren song of my smart phone; I don’t like its power over me. So I’ve created some new routines. I now check email only 4 times a day, and I use my laptop, not my phone, to do it. I have cut down on my regular checking for news and information to only twice a day now, morning and late afternoon like the way the old print newspapers used to come–again on my laptop or my Ipad. Interestingly, although I’m using my laptop for the same queries I used to use the phone for, I don’t find I’m drawn to run to my laptop all the time to check on things. Why is that? Is it because the phone, being portable, is just one arm’s length away, while the laptop (which remains stationary on my desk) is not? I’m also now leaving the phone on a table in another room much of the time. It’s not an arm’s length away any more. I feel its lure, though. My mind knows where it is, and I think about it. I’m watching that; maybe, with these new routines, over time I will break that connection and be able to actually forget my phone for a while.
40% of the world’s population has a smartphone now; this is probably the biggest change in how we stay informed and communicate as a species since movable type and the printing press—maybe bigger. I definitely think smartphones are contributing to the breakdown in civility and the rise in polarization. Rather than talk to people face to face, we are interacting with them through the mediation of an electronic device. All of our evolutionary sensory intelligence, our ability to read body language and facial expression, is being bypassed in favor of a robotic intermediary.
I can’t help but think this can’t be good. It has been a staple of dystopian science fiction for a long time that self-evolving robots might take over the world; the Terminator movies are just one example. But maybe it’s not that robots will take us over, but that we will take ourselves over, turning ourselves increasingly into cyborgs, melded with our cellphones or virtual reality goggles.
Now that I have initiated these modifications in my smartphone use, I have noticed a subtle change in my mental state. I am a little more attuned to my physical surroundings—I’m more aware of light and shadow, sounds and echoes, the odors I smell and textures I touch. I realize that I have been somewhat deprived of these sensory inputs. I feel that I am a bit more human now—in fact even more animal—tuning into the world the old-fashioned way.
Smartphones are here to stay, of course. Unlike in my generation, which remembers a world when there were no computers, much less smartphones, today’s children as they grow are being molded and shaped around these omnipresent devices. Of course there are benefits to these technologies, as there are with most new gadgets. But are we, before we even have time to realize or question it, converting ourselves into self-made cyborgs, half-human and half-machine? Will there come a time when a human being can’t function properly in society without a smartphone, VR goggles, or even brain implant? Brain implant—now there’s a scary thought. Will our brains then be controlled by some centralized thought control police? Those are echoes of another dystopian movie—The Matrix.
This is indeed a brave new world. I will not live to see how it will all turn out, and perhaps I am just being a grumpy old man to be suspicious of what is in store. So be it; I like myself better with these new smartphone habits I have developed. I want to see if I can sustain these changes, and notice what happens to my mental and physical state as I take more control over my body and own unmediated experience of reality. I suppose it is possible that at some point some people will rebel against technology and try to live without it—free from and off the grid, as the expression goes. The new “Zion,” to reference The Matrix again. (If you haven’t seen the movie, Zion is the secret location of a society where people don’t have a brain implant).
You might try a similar change, in your own time and way. Who knows, you might like it. I do.

3 thoughts on “Smartphone Addiction and Men

  1. “…Will our brains then be controlled by some centralized thought control police? Those are echoes of another dystopian movie—The Matrix…”

    It is possible that the large number of dystopian films and books are at least an equally negative situation. Do large numbers of people crave dystopia? It would seem that way. Or…are studios turning out such films in order to gauge the sociopolitical zeitgeist, and then sell their findings to eager corporations? If so, might that account for the breezy embrace of the madness we continue to see?

  2. Hi Lewis,

    As one “grumpy old man to another” …well said! Your words resonate deeply and articulate my thoughts about our phone/social media culture. In moments of clarity, I am stunned at how this new reality has become normalized as a socially accepted way of being “connected”. Often, I see couples (ostensibly) in social settings both glued to their phones, physically close yet energetically distant and grapple with the notion of this as the new normal. In the same vein social media is how “we connect” and where self worth is equated with the number of followers and likes. Really?

    Like you I want to minimize my screen time, strive to be more present in my moment-to-moment life and learn to just be. As a long time, yoga teacher I need to come full circle to what drew me to contemplative philosophies in the first place and trust in what I know/understand/believe to constitute authentic connection. I am here.


  3. Truer words, etc….

    Trying to fight my own addiction with this, about a year ago I laid down some guidelines…the first was to not look at devices until late morning. Up until that point, I would wake up, get coffee, go down all the internet rabbit holes, read the news, and by the time I was done with all my mind was extremely agitated, which set the tone for the rest of the day. So I moved on to sitting, then screenless coffee, then checking out internet just before lunch. It was wonderful, and only lasted about 2 months.

    This past weekend I went on a three-day backpacking trip into real wilderness. I was a little astonished to observe my thoughts and reactions the first afternoon of the trip. Probably the first time in nearly a year I had been out of the reach of internet. I actually felt a subtle form of withdrawal. But by the next day I had forgotten all about it.

    Coming back from that trip, and reading this column, has motivated me to at least TRY to reset my relationship to all of this. Thanks.



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