Smartphone Addiction: Is Switching Off an Option?

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“On average, Singapore’s millennials are spending 3.4 hours a day on their mobile phones, whereas others within Asia Pacific are spending 2.8 hours a day.” – Deloitte’s 2014 Global Mobile Consumer Survey

By Luan Do

In today’s age of rapid digitalisation, smartphones are becoming an extension of one’s self.

In a recent study, market research company YouGov highlighted that the phobia of being away from mobile phone contact, or nomophobia, has become tantamount to “wedding day jitters” or “trips to the dentist”. In the US alone where 64% own a smartphone, two in three were found to suffer from nomophobia.

Such findings would ring a bell with Singapore where almost 90% own a smartphone, the highest globally, according to Deloitte’s 2014 Global Mobile Consumer Survey (GMCS). In a separate study by global market research company TNS, it was found that Singapore’s millennials are spending 3.4 hours a day on their mobile phones. In perspective, this figure is 3.2 globally and 2.8 for countries within Asia Pacific, with the Japanese spending only 1.6 hours a day on their phones.

switching off phone

Impact

David Tay, Town Planner of Activista, shared with Epoch Times that although “[smartphones] make our work more efficient”, “work follows me into my bedroom and it affects my sleeping time. I cannot get away from work”.

The GMCS findings echo the story of Mr Tay, as it has been shown that while smartphone owners in other countries in Southeast Asia are using their devices more for social networks, Singaporeans are using theirs more for emails.

More than eight in 10 Singaporeans check their phones 15 minutes prior going to bed, and almost one in two check their phones at night, according to a recent survey by market research and technology company Toluna.

And people are spending more time “swiping, swishing, tapping” on their mobile phones than spending time interacting with one another. “I long for the time when there is no smartphone, when people communicate and relate to one another face-to-face. Now, there are many more ways to communicate, but we talk less,” Mr Tay added.

This smartphone effect is extended to family dinners, too.

Ikea’s 2015 Life at Home Survey has revealed that although one in two Singaporeans find it annoying when other people use their mobile phones at the dining table, 83% conceded to doing the same.

These findings are indeed indicative symptoms of digital addiction, which includes one’s inability to control the impulse to check his/her phone unnecessarily. Trisha Lin, an assistant professor in communications at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), has developed the following symptoms checklist for digital addiction:

– Inability to control craving

– Anxiety when separated from one’s smartphone

– Loss in productivity in studies or at work

– The need to constantly check one’s phone

Observing these symptoms does not only allow one to have quality time with his/her loved ones, but it can also save lives by preventing digital addiction from happening on the roads: nowadays, people are engrossed with their smartphones while crossing the road and barely pay attention to what’s happening around them.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (USA), text-driving has a 23% higher chance of causing a crash, which is equivalent to downing four bottles of beers before driving.

In Singapore, a recent survey on Todayonline.com emphasised that 83% of the 513 drivers surveyed admitted to using their mobile phones while driving without any hands-free kit. This poses a high risk to the safety of other road users, especially motorcyclists.

“Riding has become more dangerous than ever, as more and more people are using their handphones as they drive nowadays,” said Mohamed Alnirzaly, an ex-motorcyclist who switched to driving after a major road accident with a then-driver who was using his mobile phone while driving.

Mitigation

While the transformational benefits of mobile phones are undoubtable, it is crucial that mankind stays in control to minimise the negative impact of digital addiction. Improving and sustaining healthy social interactions requires conversationalists to be engaged in active listening, empathic understanding and the constant giving of one’s attention to another person, rather than casual commenting and adding emoticons online.

After all, as Albert Einstein once said: “The human spirit must prevail over technology.”

Fortunately, these wise words are gaining importance nowadays. In Ofcom’s annual communications market report 2016, the media watchdog revealed that as the average adult spends more time using media and communication services per day than they do sleeping, there are also 15 million who are intentionally leaving their smartphones, tablets, laptops behind and going on technology-free holidays, which are often regarded as  ‘digital detox’.

In recent years, Singapore is also promoting healthy social interactions via innovation. For instance, a group of students won $30,000 for developing the Apple Tree app, which encourages family members and friends to spend more face-to-face time together by putting their phones together, which eventually comes with rewards.

Nevertheless, critics may argue that the above-mentioned measures are either short-term solutions or merely addressing the immediate cause of the problem. Indeed, just like how crimes still occur despite sophisticated judicial systems, disconnectedness in physical interactions would still occur as long as one is slave to one’s (digital) impulses.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the moral values that one embraces. In order to better address the root cause in this case, perhaps an appropriate question to ask is: how compassionate do we feel towards others?

And should we help others by first helping ourselves control our digital addiction?

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