Are You Glued to Your Phone?


Ashley Kwon/ Fourth Estate

I have it, you have it, your grandma has it, even your seven-year-old cousin has it: cell phone addiction. Smartphones have become a completely, undeniably essential part of our everyday lives. We are required to answer emails from our bosses, respond to texts from our moms and send Snapchats to friends, lest they feel terribly betrayed by our silence.

The 21st century is the age of the smartphone, and quickly (but perhaps not quick enough) people are starting to realize that maybe these little computers aren’t actually all that great for us.

Smartphone addiction is very much real, and the truth is that if you have a smartphone, you’re probably addicted to it. The psychology behind why checking your phone is so gratifying — to the point where it becomes necessary — is awfully similar to why people develop gambling addictions. The exciting feeling of the chance that a slot machine could make you rich at any given spin is called “intermittent reinforcement.” It’s the principle that compels human beings to keep trying their luck — keep on checking away — in the hopes that something new or exciting might happen.

Sound familiar?

The reason that constantly checking your phone becomes so gratifying is because every once in a while you will get a new or exciting message, or a notification that you didn’t see coming. You turn your phone on, even when you haven’t felt it buzz. You refresh your Instagram feed, even when you’ve just scrolled through everything — because you’re waiting for that big attention-grabber, that big release of serotonin.

Developers surely aren’t blind to this phenomenon, either. When half the world is addicted to your software, the next step is finding out how to keep it that way. Apps like Facebook and Instagram follow algorithms made to keep feeding you the information you want to see, so that you keep scrolling and refreshing.

Do you think they make millions of dollars by being passive?

As we crawl into an increasingly dark society controlled by robots and computers, it’s important that we maintain our humanity. Do you really want to resign yourself to being so dumb and shallow as to let a rectangle control your life? Do you want to surrender your capacity for making deep, interpersonal relationships? Do you want to be the half of a couple that just sits on his phone for the whole date?

It might take more than a newspaper article written by some college freshman who thinks he knows everything to convince you to make a serious change in your life, but trust me on this one.

Go into your settings, go to “screen time,” and impose some regulations on your lifestyle. That rectangle does not truly make you happy — the natural, beautiful world outside and all the people in it will.

All you have to do is look up and see them.