Device addiction and the lure of the screen


Are you addicted to your mobile phone? To your tablet?

There’s no question that mobile device usage is well and truly ingrained in our everyday lives. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we are connected to the outside world, at the touch of a button. Whilst undoubtedly bringing a wealth of benefits to make our lives easier, this accessibility leaves some feeling uneasy about the level of dependency they place on their devices.

Device addiction has been described as ‘the habitual drive or compulsion to continue to use a mobile phone, despite its negative impact on one’s wellbeing’ and research shows that 47% agreed they felt addicted to using their mobile devices. In addition, 50% said they feel uneasy if they can’t get online where they are. Always kept within reach, users describe losing a mobile device to be like losing a limb and feel the need to be always contactable ‘just in case’.

My iPhone is my right arm... I have my calendar entries in there, phone numbers and photos. I hate forgetting it or thinking it might break.
— Survey participant

Impact of constant use

 A recent US study showed that young people are already showing real signs of device addiction, spending up to 10 hours a day on their phones texting, sending emails, checking Facebook and browsing the internet.

Other research shows users claim they find their devices hard to put down and that this stops them spending quality time with their families in the home, reduces the amount of face time they have with friends by instant messaging instead of meeting up and distracts them from errands or activities they would otherwise be doing.

I spend more time on my phone texting people than meeting up with them. It makes communicating easier but reduces the amount of time I physically see my friends.
— Community participant
“They distract me from doing other things e.g. gardening, housework, DIY” (Depth respondent)
— Depth interview participant

There’s no doubt the use of mobile devices for things like shopping, catching up with friends and organising your life are all logical, sensible reasons to use them more often. However, users admit the time saved using mobile devices for tasks and activities like these is often put back into using them for checking social media, playing games or just browsing the internet.  If the whole point in using these devices is to make our lives easier and more efficient, it makes you wonder why we don’t use this time saved more productively?

It takes up a look of my time, but also saves me time and money too. I think I check it far too often, I am always looking at social media
— Survey participant

What does this mean for the future of mobile device usage?

The development of mobile device technology has shown no signs of slowing down and the more functional devices become the more we will become reliant on them for carrying out tasks in our everyday lives. So what does all this mean for the future of device usage?

This evidence suggests that further developments in mobile device technology could actually be detrimental to our quality of life. It’s clear that we are well aware of the time we spend using our mobile devices and the impact this has on our lives. So it’s just a question of whether in future we can gain control of our habitual device usage and, of course, if technology companies will allow us to.