Are you spending too much time on your smartphone? Do you ever feel like you’re missing out if you have not checked your phone in a while? If that is the case, you are not the only one. But do you know what to do about it? Ironically, there are apps that could help you.
It is only ten years since Apple launched the first iPhone, but problematic smartphone use has become a new challenge to our health. Findings from a UK survey showed that UK adults on average spend a day per week (25 hours) online, 40% go online more than 10 times a day and 10% more than 50 times a day. Four in ten UK adults find that they spend too much time online, 60% consider themselves ‘hooked’ to the Internet and about a third finds it difficult to disconnect. Smartphone use can be problematic for some people due to the availability of constant connection, the addictiveness of apps combined with personal psychological factors. This is facilitated by characteristics of the technology, including easy access, the possibility of escaping daily life, being able to remain anonymous online, and the frequency of alerts and messages.
Several non-technological and technological approaches to dealing with problematic smartphone use have been proposed, which have similarities with approaches used for moderating food or alcohol intake. For example, digital diets where people spend a couple of days without their phone, are a popular short-term approach to break people’s habit of smartphone overuse and 15 million UK adults have undertaken this approach. There are also several apps that can help people with tracking smartphone use and setting goals for moderating use, both for themselves and for their family members. Google just announced that they are building digital wellness tools into their Android operating system. However, none of these have been researched properly and there is therefore a lack of knowledge on what works effectively to help people manage their Internet and smartphone use.
In our paper ‘Problematic smartphone use: digital approaches to an emerging public health problem’ published in Digital Health, pathways to problematic use of smartphones, approaches to deal with this issue, and their limitations are discussed. This includes problematic use of smartphones by people who self-identify that they or their family members use mobile devices in a problematic way. Extreme problematic use (e.g. relating to online gambling or heavy gaming) that severely disrupts people’s lives is a form of digital addiction excluded from this. An overview of available apps for problematic smartphone use is provided. Further work is needed on various aspects of problematic smartphone use, including the understanding of how smartphone use impacts people’s lives, strengthening the definition of problematic smartphone use, and validation of its measurement. We hope that these efforts will help people to use their smartphone in a healthy and effective way.
Michelle Helena van Velthoven, Sir David Cooksey Research Fellow in Healthcare Translation, University of Oxford
John Powell, Associate Professor, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford
Georgina Powell, CEO, Phone Life Balance Ltd, Georgie Powell is CEO and co-founder of the app SPACE. She feels that it’s her responsibility to use technology for social change. Her wake up moment was when she became a new mum, glued to social media and not feeling great about it.
Michelle H van Velthoven, John Powell and Georgina Powell
First Published March 5, 2018