The Candor

How Phonoholics are Harming Themselves and Society?

Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

We live in a society that celebrates the diversity of cultures, beliefs, and ideas. We can find similarities between these cultures that reflect what is considered normal in our society. However, what is considered normal, or good, from a combined, cultural relativistic perspective sometimes should not be considered good.  A common behavior whose cultural acceptance must be challenged is excessive cell phone use.

“Phonoholics”, a term I have coined to describe cell phone addicts, are doing a wonderful job of creating cultural shockwaves that are restructuring societal norms. Screen time in the form of texting, social media, web surfing, and video watching are not only replacing leisurely activities (Lepp et al., 2014) but also are harming productivity (2016 CareerBuilder survey). It also appears that many phonoholics exist in our society. A 2016 report published by Common Sense indicates that about half of teens believe that they are addicted to their cell phones. A 2015 consumer report published by Deloitte suggests that the average cell phone user checks their phone 35 times a day, where each check is at least 30 seconds long. And there are a whole lot of other statistics that will paint the same picture: significant cell phone use is widespread and is a time-consuming habit that is difficult to overcome for many phonoholics.

Cell phones, specifically smart phones, are by far the most readily-accessible electronic devices that are used today. In addition, the practicality of the cell phone in our daily lives exceeds that of any other device or tool that we have ever invented. And these reasons would also explain why cell phone use is the most problematic issue of all addictions that involve the use of technology.

Procrastination is arguably the most serious, behavioral side effect that is associated with cell phone dependency. A study that evaluates the relationship between GPA and daily cell phone use confirms that there is a link between poor performance and higher cell phone use (Lepp et al., 2015). Another study concludes that sedentary behavior is directly correlated with cell phone use (Barkley and Lepp, 2016). And while studies will continue to decipher the exact relationship between cell phone use and lifestyle choices like procrastination, I think it’s important to also take a moment to reflect on what we see in our daily lives.

Think about it. The cell phone is the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about before going to sleep. Everywhere you go now, you see a lot more children than ever before glued to screens as they fail to have even a glance of how the outside world works. Family parties and group outings always feel boring because everyone is using their phone, and no one wants to interact face-to-face. You even notice that some of your friends always have “the itch” to constantly check the cell phone for messages, emails, Snap Stories, or anything else that seems important to them. Procrastination also harms these people all the time: when late school nights can be avoided by a conscious effort to manage time wisely, their cell phone addictions (or addictions to other forms of technology) block any hope of sleeping on time. While this is an over-simplified view of the issues presented by cell phone addiction, I have observed several of these blatant instances of excessive cell phone use in my own life, and I would bet that almost no one in our society is a stranger to these problematic behaviors.

These problems have created large-scale, societal changes that affect everyone between the poor to the rich, as approximately 77% of Americans now own smartphones (Pew Research Center). And when people are using their smartphones to the point that they are neglecting academic performance, social relationships, and even physical well-being in some cases, I seriously hope that I am not the only one that believes that cell phone addiction is an urgent matter.

Although we depend on the cell phone for convenience in our daily lives, this is much different than the behavioral malignancy known as cell phone dependency. And addressing cell phone dependency is no simple matter, since we encourage the use of cell phones on a daily basis. So, how can we amend cell phone use without necessarily banning them or enforcing rules that directly regulate their use? Well, we must transform excessive cell phone use into a socially-reprehensible behavior, and I have a few solutions that could allow us to gradually decrease cell phone dependency.

My first solution is pretty simple and fool-proof: don’t upgrade your phone. I’ve been carrying around what I like to call my “loaner,” a low-grade smartphone that I’ve been using ever since my fancier phone’s stopped working last summer. And after being humbled by months of phone-crashing lag, less-than-inadequate storage, and disappointing reception wherever I go, I realized that having an underperforming phone has helped me focus less on using my cell phone and more on the important aspects of my life. Unfortunately, this solution will not please everyone.

For those who find it blasphemous to keep a cell phone for longer than its socially-acceptable shelf life, I have an even better solution to offer: Tell your friends, peers, and family members to stop using their phones so frequently, and this includes forcing yourself to stop using your phone so often. And if you’re not up for the direct approach, you can politely discourage problematic cell phone use by encouraging social interaction as often as possible. Yes, you are going to have to be pulling teeth (and quite possibly your own), and you might lose a couple friends, but you’re going to be doing our society a favor by standing against addictive cell phone use while encouraging healthier behaviors in your social spheres.

Forget about rising sea levels, nuclear warfare, and meteor strikes as the principal threats to our future sustainability. If we can’t even prevent cell phone addiction from progressing into future generations, then we will fail to train the future generation to become productive, responsible individuals who can fight these potential threats and many others when we can no longer fight.

Yes, I’m afraid of a future where an overwhelming population of phonoholics would destroy our ability to function as a society.