Hooked on hand­sets

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

Are you ad­dicted to your smart­phone?

It is a ques­tion which has cre­ated a great deal of de­bate in re­cent years as smart­phones seem­ingly be­come more and more in­dis­pens­able to our daily lives.

In Asia, a re­gion that has given us the selfie stick and emo­jis, peo­ple’s love of the smart­phone has cre­ated some­thing that some psy­chol­o­gists call nomo­pho­bia or no mo­bile phone pho­bia.

Young peo­ple through­out Asia are rarely seen with­out their phones. In restau­rants they pho­to­graph meals, share pic­tures with friends and then pro­ceed to send texts. Even in cin­e­mas now you are asked not to use your mo­bile phone.

But does this con­sti­tute an ad­dic­tion?

Christo­pher Hunt, a clinical psychologist at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, said smart­phone ad­dic­tion cre­ates nice head­lines, “but ad­dic­tion it­self is a poorly de­fined con­cept”.

“You can ap­ply the word ad­dic­tion to any­thing be­cause no one has a clear def­i­ni­tion of what an ad­dic­tion re­ally is.”

Hunt noted that tra­di­tion­ally, an ad­dic­tion is de­fined in terms of tol­er­ance and with­drawal. “We know with heroin, al­co­hol and cig­a­rettes there is a strong with­drawal. With smart­phones we are look­ing more at be­hav­ioral ad­dic­tion. Like gam­bling. But this is still a very con­tro­ver­sial topic, and the re­search is not set­tled on whether this is an ad­dic­tion or not.”

Smart­phones are “just the medium”, Hunt added.

“It un­der­lines some­thing we are do­ing when we use them to look things up. The point is, you can overuse them and that can lead to prob­lems. You can use them to gam­ble and that can lead to prob­lems. You can con­stantly use Facebook and other so­cial me­dia which can lead to so­cial prob­lems.

“The thing is th­ese are re­ally old prob­lems be­ing done in a dif­fer­ent way.”

David Green­field, as­sis­tant clinical pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut, re­cently told Time mag­a­zine: “Only a small per­cent­age of peo­ple qual­ify as ad­dicted.

“But many peo­ple overuse their smart­phones.”

Green­field, who is also founder of the Cen­ter for In­ter­net and Tech­nol­ogy Ad­dic­tion, pointed out that the line be­tween “overuse and ad­dic­tion is gray”. “But you are mov­ing into ad­dic­tion ter­ri­tory when you can­not stop us­ing your phone even when it is harm­ing your life. Whether you are in a work meet­ing or be­hind the wheel, if you can­not help be­ing on it even when you know you should not be, that loss of con­trol is the hall­mark of an ad­dic­tion.”

In the same ar­ti­cle, James Roberts, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Bay­lor Univer­sity in Texas, agreed with Green­field’s def­i­ni­tion.

He said that “with­drawal” is a ma­jor sign of ad­dic­tion.

“If you feel anx­ious, ir­ri­ta­ble, or un­com­fort­able when your phone is not within reach, that is a red flag. And if you seem to be on your phone more and more, that ever-in­creas­ing de­sire for a ‘dose’ of smart­phone is akin to sub­stance abusers who build up tol­er­ance to drugs or al­co­hol.”

Adrian Carter, se­nior re­search fel­low with the depart­ment of psy­chol­ogy at Monash Univer­sity, Mel­bourne, said smart­phone ad­dic­tion is not a “widely rec­og­nized con­di­tion in psy­chi­a­try or psy­chol­ogy”. “While there may be some psy­chol­o­gists, clin­i­cians or sci­en­tists who are will­ing to pro­mote the ex­is­tence of smart­phone ad­dic­tion, this is not a com­mon view within psy­chi­a­try or the field of ad­dic­tion.”

Smart­phone ad­dic­tion is not in­cluded in the ma­jor di­ag­nos­tic clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tems for men­tal ill­ness, such as the DSM-5 (Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders, Fifth Edi­tion), he added.

“There are plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties that we wished that we did less of,” Carter said.

“We watch too much TV, eat too much sweet food, or spend too much time on Facebook. Some­times we wished we did more ex­er­cise. But this in­abil­ity to ad­here to our longterm goals to live a healthy and ful­fill­ing life or suc­cumb­ing to our im­me­di­ate de­sires does not make this an ad­dic­tion.”

In psy­chi­a­try and psy­chol­ogy, Carter noted, ad­dic­tion is re­served for be­hav­iors that cause sig­nif­i­cant harm to a per­son’s health such as ad­dic­tion to al­co­hol or heroin that can lead to se­ri­ous health con­se­quences and even death.

“In so­ci­ety, we may use the term ad­dic­tion to de­scribe our over-en­gage­ment in some ac­tiv­i­ties, but this is dif­fer­ent from the clinical di­ag­no­sis which de­scribes a more harm­ful and less con­trol­lable psy­chi­atric ill­ness.”

Carter said it is un­clear whether smart­phone use is the cause of peo­ple’s “prob­lem­atic use” or if it is the sort of ac­tiv­i­ties peo­ple use their smart­phone for, such as shop­ping, gam­bling, gam­ing or view­ing pornog­ra­phy.

“It would be pre­ma­ture to de­scribe peo­ple’s prob­lem­atic use of smart­phones as a psy­chi­atric ill­ness such as ad­dic­tion. How­ever, that does not mean that some­one might not ben­e­fit from talk­ing to some­one to help re­duce their re­liance on smart­phones or to re­al­ize their long-term goals and live a full and healthy life,” he said.

Carter said peo­ple must be wary of “mir­a­cle cures”.

“There is a long his­tory of sell­ing mir­a­cle cures for ad­dic­tion at sig­nif­i­cant cost, but with lim­ited ev­i­dence that they are ef­fec­tive.”

Hunt at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney said one of the prob­lems is that peo­ple gen­er­ally fear new tech­nol­ogy.

He said peo­ple tap into this fear and make money from it.

“As yet, there is no ev­i­dence to sug­gest smart­phones are ad­dic­tive. Es­sen­tially it is a so­cial change, a new medium. Just like the tele­vi­sion and the tele­phone were.”

WANG WEIWEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

Pri­mary school stu­dents use smart­phones out­side a mu­seum in Bei­jing.

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