You may try to weasel out of answering the question by arguing that constant use of a smartphone is a habit, like saying "to be honest" or "frankly" a lot, and not a physical addiction that one may have to, say, cigarettes, alcohol or cocaine. An interview in the New York Times with Adam Alter, author of "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked," suggests otherwise. Alter defines addiction as "something you enjoy doing in the short term, that undermines your well-being in the long term—but that you do compulsively anyway," and says that the brain reacts to compulsive video game playing in the same way it reacts to substance abuse.
Alter also discusses a trend among highly successful tech executives in the San Francisco Bay Area to keep their children away from digital devices. These people know something. I'm reminded of a tendency, back when I used to cover the entertainment business, of industry professionals to brag that they don't own a TV. They didn't mind making money off the content they create but they certainly didn't want to get hooked on it themselves.
Brand communicators can't afford to lock away their smartphones for three-hour chunks during workweeks, however you define a workweek. They're paid to stay connected, monitor brand sentiment, protect and enhance their brand's or their clients' reputations. They're not, presumably, kids who shut themselves in for days at a time playing games and using social media. Yet the requirements of their jobs put them at risk of addiction to digital devices. Even worse, if they're addicted and they have kids, those kids—seeing that it's OK for mom or dad to always be looking at their phone—may end becoming the hooked shut-ins Alter talks about.
I came up with this simple, unscientific test to gauge your addiction to your smartphone. It proceeds from the assumption that it's not a question of whether or not you're addicted, it's a question of how much.
- Do you generally use your smartphone for reasons that have nothing to do with your professional responsibilities or with the safety and welfare of friends and family?
- Can more than 50% of your actions on your smartphone be eliminated from your life with no suffering as a result?
- Are you always aware of where your smartphone is at any given moment—at home, work or on the road?
- Does your smartphone call out to you silently to pick it up when it's not in your hand?
- Do you get annoyed when someone interrupts your use of your smartphone, even if you're using it for something that has zero importance or value?
- Are you reading this on your smartphone?
If you answered yes to just one of these questions, you're hooked, but you're not a danger to yourself or others. If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you've got a P-R-O-B-L-E-M.
—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI