Smartphone Addiction: It’s Problematic, Self-Destructive, and Taking Over Our Lives

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People are in denial about their smartphone addiction.

That’s what I take from a recent survey from KDM Engineering titled Smartphone Etiquette that hit my email recently. As I read the findings, all I kept thinking was, “This doesn’t surprise me at all.

Here are a few of the topline findings:

  • A whopping 92 percent of Americans believe that smartphone addiction is real.
  • Although 60 percent of Americans believe they touch their phone 100 times or less per day, the research shows that a typical user actually touches, taps, or swipes their smartphone a staggering 2,617 plus times per day.
  • Despite the fact that 79 percent of people think it’s not appropriate to read their phone while crossing the street, 49 percent do it anyway.

“Problematic and Self-Destructive”

It’s that last bullet point that shouts “smartphone addiction,” because I can’t imagine anyone doing anything 2,600 times a day without it falling under the textbook definition of addiction. Here’s how Urban Dictionary defines addiction:

A conscious (and unconscious) action characterized by repetition and obsession. It is possible to become addicted to basically anything, sometimes the tendency may be rewarding but often it is problematic and self-destructive.”

But, it’s in the survey’s workplace findings that you really get the full sense of how smartphones are impacting us on the job. In this area, the survey found that:

  • One out of five workers (20 percent) check their phone at least once every 20 minutes while on the job, and another 25 percent say they check it every hour.
  • Four in 10 Millennials (43 percent) check their phone every 20 minutes;
  • Some 70 percent think it’s wrong to have their smartphones out during meetings, 53 percent do it anyway; and,
  • Four out of five (80 percent) think it’s wrong to check phones during meetings, yet 50 percent still do it.

When employees know it’s inappropriate to have their smartphones out in a meeting but still do it, and then check them during the meeting despite knowing it’s bad form, that’s when you know people are in denial about how big a problem smartphone addiction is.

The Dirty Little Secret About Smartphones

The staffing firm OfficeTeam conducted a survey a couple of years ago, and it found that employees spend about 56 minutes per day using their cell phones for personal business while at work.

That sounds like a lot, and what made it worse was that the managers surveyed assumed their employees were looking at social media when many employees said they were actually reading and responding to personal emails. In addition, 58 percent of workers reported using their cell phones to visit websites that had been blocked or banned by their employer.

Here’s the dirty little secret about smartphones: People can’t use one and do anything else well, and anyone who thinks they can is simply fooling themselves.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had somebody at the gym or in the market nearly knock me over me as they walked by reading or texting on their phone. Or,how they nearly got run over in the parking lot while walking, head down, and doodling on the phone, oblivious to cars trying to navigate around them.

And how about people driving and talking without a hands-free device? Whenever I see someone driving erratically — going dangerously slow or weaving across their lane (and sometimes veering into someone else’s lane) — I think they’re either drunk or on their phone. Most of the time, they’re so engrossed in the phone that they have no idea they are actually a dangerous road hazard.

Such is the state of life and technology in 21st Century America.

The notion you can be on your smartphone and do anything else — even just walking — is a crock.

You Need a Workplace Smartphone Policy

Given that, what does it tell you when your workers are doodling with their phones during an office meeting?

What it tells me is that employees addicted to their smartphones aren’t giving you the performance you need from them when they try to work AND fiddle with their phone. Something has to give, and when someone is engrossed with their phone, what usually gives is whatever else they think they’re doing at the time.

ComputerWorld columnist Mike Elgan focused on this topic last year in an article titled Smartphones Are Driving Us to DistractionHe wrote:

“The rate at which smartphones and their apps grow more addictive and distracting keeps growing. Our innate ability to resist those addictions and distractions doesn’t really grow. As former Google product manager Tristan Harris says, technology is “better at hijacking your instincts than you are at controlling them.”

All of this raises the question: Is there an answer to smartphone addiction? How many surveys do we need to tell us it’s a huge problem for our workers?

Mike Elgan offers some possible answers. Here’s one the best ones:

“I would love to see new norms or policies emerge in enterprises where it becomes unacceptable to bring smartphones into meetings. Business meetings could offer a moment of attention in our otherwise distracted work day. …

I’m predicting that the newest trend will be widespread smartphone fasting — going without a smartphone for varying lengths of time. One way is all the way: getting rid of your smartphone and not buying a new one. Instead, buy a great camera and cheap feature phone and carry those.

Another option is to schedule data connectivity: carry the phone, but allow yourself just a few hours a day of being connected.

Yet another approach, which is growing in popularity already, is to delete all your social networking accounts and thereby remove one source of compulsion with the smartphone.

Enterprises will (and should) organize voluntary smartphone fasts for the benefit of employees and company productivity, as well as provide training and coaching for addicts and prevention programs for the as-yet unafflicted.”

Fix This Problem Before It’s Too Late

These steps may sound radical, but as the Smartphone Etiquette survey shows, your employees may KNOW what is inappropriate smartphone behavior at work, but a great many of them can’t help themselves when it comes to their phones.

Mike Elgan’s fixes may not work for your workplace, but the message is clear: You better get on top of this smartphone addiction problem before it gets worse.

If you don’t have a workplace smartphone policy, well, you’re probably just asking for smartphone addiction to become a bigger problem.

Better fix it now before it’s too late. Your culture and productivity will thank you.

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