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My Smartphone Owned Me

Selfie with Smartphone!

Are you addicted to your phone the way I used to be?

Smartphone addiction is so prevalent that it has been assigned a clinical term: Nomophobia - fear of being without your phone.

Are you nomophobic? How many times today did you check your phone? C'mon, be honest!

I was like a dog on my smartphone's leash. Every time it buzzed or beeped, I stopped what I was doing and responded to it. I really was like one of Pavlov's dogs. This happened all day long. I took it to the bathroom, to bed, the dinner table, basically everywhere else. The only time I didn’t have it was at the gym. I locked it up and focused on my workouts and that kept me fit. I was like the tobacco executive addicted to cigarettes. But there is hope. I’ve been able to break the addiction by modifying my behaviors and so can you. First, let's talk about the extent of the problem and its impact. There are 220 million smartphone users in the US. 77% of us own smartphones. For 18-29 years olds, smartphone ownership is close to 100%. We spend an average of 5 hours per day on our phones. This is about a third of all waking hours. 2 of these hours are spent on social media with the breakdown being YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. According to Dr. David Greenfield of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, you’re moving into addiction territory when you can’t stop using your phone even when you believe it’s harming your life.

Dr. James Roberts, author of a book about smartphone addiction details other warning signs including withdrawal. He says the that ever-increasing desire for a “dose” of smartphone is akin to substance abusers who build up tolerance to drugs or alcohol. The impact of this addiction is broad and varied. Car fatalities are up despite improvements in safety features. According to, a grassroots advocacy organization, 3500 fatalities were due to distracted driving in 2015, most of those from smartphone usage. In past times, you may have angrily honked at a driver applying makeup or using an electric razor in a car. Today, we're too distracted by our own phones to see what the next guy is doing. Pedestrian deaths are skyrocketing, probably due to this distraction. Interestingly, it's not phone calls that distract us, it's the attention diverting use of texting and social media that draws our eyes from the road and onto our phones. At highway speeds, a one second diversion translates to ninety feet of travel. A lot of damage can happen over 90 feet. There is also evidence that smartphone addiction drives down happiness and negatively impacts worker productivity, all because of the constant giving in to the "fix" of distraction that the smartphone provides. Here are new behaviors that helped with my nomophobia: First, tape an index card to the back of your phone case each day, carry a pen and make a tick mark every time you check your phone. (Demonstrate). Do this for two weeks to get a better sense how often you are actually using your phone. Second, put a photograph of a loved one in your car's phone holder. When you get into your car, commit to do nothing with your phone other than talk. Put it in a closed compartment or in the trunk before you start the car. No text, no internet. 90% of cars today come with Bluetooth, so there is never a need to look at your screen. We need to have phone-free places and times in our lives. Have a place near the front door where your family keeps its phones. They don’t need to come into the bedrooms or the bathrooms. Remember, our children will mimic our good behaviors and bad behaviors. At work, use distraction avoidance apps like Forest, SelfControl or TimeGuard.

And yes, it is absolutely ironic to use apps to limit your smartphone usage!

Another option is to go back to a basic cell phone without internet. It will free your time and put cash in your pocket in the form of lower monthly bills. Also, there are interesting crossover products, like the LightPhone, which uses the same phone number as your smartphone but it is designed for voice only. You can leave the smartphone at home and carry the LightPhone instead.

For me, I’ve gained time back in my life and my ability to concentrate on difficult tasks has improved. In reality, I'm in recovery, so I have to maintain my vigilance in order to avoid a relapse. Social media can be really enticing, so I work hard to minimize my dependence upon it. Too much of a good thing can be a really bad thing!

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