'Mobile addict' population increasing; relationship quality potentially decreasing

Published: Sunday, May 4 2014 8:05 a.m. MDT

Spencer Simons spends time on Facebook with his phone in Murray on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Spencer Simons said he sends at least 30 texts an hour, checks Facebook at least 20 times a day, and sends or receives a Snapchat message as many as 40 times a day.

"We're all pretty addicted, I guess," the Herriman resident said of the small group of friends he communicates with on his iPhone.

Simons, 23, said it's likely both the cause and result of his being asocial. Communication through his phone is a way to feel more social than he really is and avoid situations he finds uncomfortable.

"I think it’s probably a lot to do with boredom with my own life, he said, "Because … not really being super social, I just kind of sit around doing nothing on my phone. I’m pretty sure if I was to become more determined to participate in social activities and go outside and do stuff with my life, that would probably help."

Simons said it's "definitely" a problem, and he's tried several times to limit his phone use. It's something he's working on this year by trying to get out and interact more with family and friends.

Simons likely falls into a category that San Francisco-based company Flurry Analytics calls “mobile addict,” along with 176 million people around the world.

The category of people addicted to cellphones grew 123 percent from March 2013 to March 2014, according to an April Flurry Analytics report that looked at 500,000 apps used on 1.3 billion devices.

The report says nearly 20 percent are regular mobile app users. An average consumer launches mobile apps about 10 times a day.

About 11 percent of consumers use apps less than 16 times daily, 6 percent use them 16 to 60 times daily and roughly 2.5 percent launch apps more than 60 times per day.

Tech trends

The trend isn’t surprising to app developer Jeff Lockhart, chief technology officer of AppVantage and Sales Rabbit, both based in Provo.

“In general, devices have become more powerful, and because of that they can be a lot more useful,” Lockhart said. “Somebody that may not have found their device as useful before may start using an increased number of apps for an increased number of things.”

There’s an increasing availability and variety of tools, he said, and many mass-consumer apps are designed to be sticky, or to suck time and money, particularly gaming modeled toward being addictive and using microtransactions to drive revenue.

Addictive apps aside, Lockhart said people could be more attached to their phones but suggested it might just be how life is now. People consult their calendars, set their alarm clocks, read books, cash checks, take photos, scan the news, get directions, check the weather and listen to music — all on their smartphones.

“They’re all things that would’ve happened before … (but) now all those different things just happen in the same place,” he said. “A phone, being as portable as it is, everybody’s coming up with new uses all the time and people are discovering those uses all the time.”

Cellphone consequences

About 58 percent of smartphone users said they don’t go an hour without checking their phone, according to the Mobile Mindset Study conducted by Lookout, a security software company protecting cellphone users from mobile threats.

Excessive cellphone use can decrease quality of life and academic performance, as well as make it harder to interact face to face and to form and keep relationships, said Lisa Mountain, a Salt Lake psychologist.

“I have younger clients acknowledging that they … don’t know how to connect on a deeper or more personal level because they’re used to doing it superficially through social media or texting, etc.,” she said. “It’s very hard to disconnect from that and connect with people on a more personal level.”

Cellphone or other technology addiction isn’t in the fifth and current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it’s similar to other behavioral addictions, and Mountain didn’t rule out the possibility of it eventually being added.

Mountain said families aren’t connecting as much because members are all on their devices at the dinner table, for example. She said people aren’t chatting at airports or other places, so screens are leading to more alienation.

“It can be anything — substances, gambling, what have you. Anything that distracts you from what you need to be focusing on or interferes with your relationships or your functioning in life is problematic,” Mountain said.

Besides leading to a decrease in social skills, cellphones can distract people from dealing with real issues and emotions. It can also worsen mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, she said.

Mountain recently started working with a client who says she’s addicted to Facebook to the point that it’s getting in the way of other things she wants to be doing in her life.

Digital detox

One of the best things to do is set healthy limits and boundaries for cellphone use and stick to them, Mountain said. Families and individuals can even set aside a screen-free day of the week, turn off notifications, avoid charging phones where they sleep and put phones away while with others.

“I think when it’s extreme and it’s used as a substitute for more authentic, personal relationships, that is a problem," she said. "I think there has to be a balance because we need personal, face-to-face contact with people, too. One of the biggest factors we need for happiness is the amount and quality of personal relationships we have.”

Mountain said it’s important to be mindful and live in the moment. Instead of distracting oneself by pulling out a device while waiting somewhere, she suggests breathing, noticing physical and emotional feelings, and paying attention to surroundings.

“I think all of us need to be aware of how technology might be interfering with our relationships or with other things we want or need to be focusing on in our lives,” Mountain said. “I think it’s an issue for all of us to be aware of, and I think it affects a lot of people.”

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Madeleine6

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