They say the first step to overcoming a problem is realizing you have one in the first place.
If you asked me whether I’m addicted to my smartphone or whether I overuse it, I would say absolutely not. I pride myself on not keeping my devices (I have two of them!) in my bedroom while I sleep, and keeping them out of reach on the kitchen counter when I’m home with my kids. But, every time I walk into the kitchen, I find myself checking my email and Twitter feed.
There’s almost a gravitational pull toward my BlackBerry and iPhone even when I know the chance that there is anything I need to see at that moment is next to zero. I feel that same pull the minute I wake up and make checking my devices one of the first things I do once I get out of bed.
Those behaviors alone probably put me in the “you have a problem” camp, but I’m sorry to say there’s now even more evidence.
I recently took the “Smartphone Abuse Test,” an online quiz administered by the Center for Technology and Internet Addiction, one of the few organizations focused on the issue.
‘I’ve got a problem’
The quiz asks questions like: “Do you find yourself spending more time on your Smartphone than you realize?” and “Do you feel reluctant to be without your Smartphone, even for a short time?”
If you answer “yes” to more than five of the 15 questions, “you might benefit by examining how much time you spend on your Smartphone,” according to the quiz.
I answered “yes” to 11 questions.
I’ve got a problem, and I’m not alone.
Dr. David Greenfield, the director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, says around 90 percent of Americans would fall in the category of overusing, abusing or misusing their devices, according to a recent nationwide telephone survey he did with 1,000 people in conjunction with AT&T.
“The analogy that I use is right before they go to bed, the last thing they do before they pass out is check their phone and the minute they open their eyes, they check their phone,” said Greenfield during an interview. “Doesn’t that sound like a smoker? This is what we used to hear with smokers is that the last thing they would do before they go to bed is they’d have their last cigarette.”
61% of respondents in the survey said they regularly sleep with their cell or smartphone turned on under their pillow or next to their bed, and more than 50% feel uncomfortable when they leave their smartphone at home or in the car, or when they have no service or their phone is broken.
Signs you are truly addicted
Greenfield, who is also author of “Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyber Freaks and Those Who Love Them,” says fewer people would actually be classified as addicted to their devices. That number is around 10 to 12 percent, according to his latest research.
“What puts somebody in that category is they are using it to a point where they are experiencing some degree of withdrawal. They are developing intolerance, meaning they are using it more and more,” said Greenfield, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
“They are using it like a drug so they’re bored, they pick up the phone. They’re tired, they pick up the phone. They’re lazy, they pick up their phone. They’re angry, they pick up the phone. They’re lonely, they pick up the phone.”
To fall into the addicted camp, Greenfield also says your smartphone use has to have “some deleterious impact on a major life sphere, whether it’s an impact on your work, your academic performance, your home life, primary relationship, parenting, legal status.”
“Let’s say you get pulled over and get a ticket for texting and driving. There has to be some negative impact generally for us to say you have a problem,” Greenfield said.
And while the majority of Americans wouldn’t be classifed as addicted, and are more likely overusing their devices, there is a fair amount of denial at work, he said.
Greenfield’s research found that while 98 percent of respondents said that texting while driving is dangerous, nearly 75% admit having done it.
“Just like drinking and driving, people have a very poor perception of impact, so, in other words, people will be doing their normal thing,” he said. “They’ll be driving and balancing their cell phone and drinking their coffee, and they’ll say to you, and they’ll mean it, that they are not impacted … but actually we know from a lot of data and research that that is absolutely not true.”
So how else can you tell if you might be addicted to your smartphone or if you fall in the larger category of your smartphone use getting out of hand? I asked on social media and got a tremendous response from people who were on their smartphones at the time! Here are ten of my favorite responses:
Ten signs you may have a problem
1. When you check your phone to see the current temperature instead of opening a window, and/or when you check your phone to see the current time instead of looking at the watch that’s right on your wrist. (I just did this!)
2. When you have to consciously say to your spouse “Let’s put our phones away” while watching TV because it’s more common that they’re out than away.
3. If you are answering emails in a dimly lit reception area while waiting for your massage therapist to destress you, you may have a problem. (OK, I’ve done this too!)
4. When your kids have to text you their carry-out orders because you’ve lost the ability to retain information that is not received on your phone.
5. When you hope you hit a bunch of red lights on the way home so you can comment on a Facebook post.
6. When one of your daughter’s first drawings of you has a BlackBerry in your hand.
7. When you wake up, you grab your phone and check it before you get up to pee.
8. When you drop a phone on your face because you’re dozing off.
9. When you choose your clothing based on the best pockets to hold your phone.
10. When you are staring at photos you took on your phone while the actual moment is taking place right in front of you. (Done that too!)