How to NOT be ADDICTED to your phone

Got a phone problem? A few tips can make you less of a screen zombie and more of a living, breathing human being.

[Keywords: cell phones, social media, FOMO, apps, depression, healthy]

Length: Medium, 1274 words

Smartphones are the most prominent technological advancement of our generation. Thirty years ago, they were nowhere, now they’re ubiquitous. Most people don’t even have a landline anymore because their cell phone is perpetually at hand. We all know why -  smartphone functionality is unparalleled. Waiting for a bus? Check your email. Kids are unruly in a doctor’s appointment? Put on a show. Dating troubles? Just start swiping through the millions of potentials. Celebrity news? Sports highlights? Politics? All right there. Organize your life, track your period, log your fitness, count your calories - there’s an app for that. Shopping? With a couple of clicks, the contents of your cart will be delivered to your door in a matter of days. Bored? Just unlock that little screen and there are endless games to waste minutes, hours, days, or more. Smartphones, true to their name, can do just about anything. However, with all this functionality, they’ve also caused some novel problems, specifically, that sometimes we enjoy our devices a little too much.

Our brains are hardwired to be attracted to flickering lights. Just walk through any campsite at night and you’ll find people everywhere sitting around a campfire mesmerized by the dancing flames. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don’t, but all eyes are glued to the flickering light. This is half the reason television became so popular - glowing boxes of color became the source of family entertainment for hours every evening and the focal point of every living room. The internet, along with smartphones, made screens (and their associated content) more accessible and personalized, but those same flickering lights are still just as irresistible for our eyes. Like the campfire of ages past, we can’t look away. That’s the root of smartphone addiction. We’re like moths fluttering around a lightbulb. Before long, a week has gone by, and although we’ve achieved three gold stars on every level of Angry Birds, a part of our life is gone. With nothing of substance to show for it. Exercise, meeting friends face to face, hobbies, the great outdoors, employment, and even personal hygiene can fall by the wayside when our phones are in our face. 

Social media has taken FOMO (fear of missing out) to a whole new level. If we don’t regularly review our “feed”, we might miss what’s happening with our favorite celebrities, sports team, or royalty. God forbid we don’t experience half a chuckle at the latest viral cat video. Our phones have become our most prominent connection with the world, surpassing physical interactions with actual people. 

Children are especially susceptible to spending too much time on screens. It’s simply a lot easier to stream Baby Shark a hundred times than take them to the park. The age at which children get their first phone is steadily declining, partly because many parents feel the need to be able to contact them at any time. I mean, what if something happens to them?! Unfortunately, children are missing out on opportunities to develop important life skills, like basic navigation, asking for help, or entertaining themselves.

With that in mind, here are a few hints to keep your relationship with your phone from becoming unhealthy. 

Phone addiction is a thing. Try going without it for a whole day. Like, actually power it off. If the experience causes stress, anxiety, irritability, or a low mood, there might be a problem. Even just suggesting a prolonged break can be enough for a phone addict to get snappy.

Those darned little screens, with all their uber-functional apps, are ruining our sleep, relationships, and mental health. You wouldn’t believe how many patients I see for De Quervain’s tenosynovitis (a.k.a. Texter’s Thumb). There’s no question that smartphones are here to stay - after all, they’re useful as all heck - but let’s make sure we own them, not the other way around.

© D. B. Ryen Incorporated, February 2024.