Smartphones Want to Give You ADD

Perhaps the phrase, “smartphones want to give you ADD” is a bit of an exaggeration. But this week I had a couple of thoughtful conversations with people who are struggling to reclaim their lives from incestuous relationships with their phones. Always at hand when they feel bored, or dissatisfied, or unhappy, smartphones seems like a godsend. But what these young adults have noticed is that they are increasingly disconnected from other things that are important.

Negative effects of smartphones

Our relationships with our smartphones are having a profound impact on what we think about, and even how we think and feel.

The constant checking and use of smartphone apps has been linked to sleep disturbances, stress, anxiety, withdrawal and deterioration in well-being, decreased academic performance, and decreased physical activity (Thomée, Härenstam, & Hagberg, 2011).

Smartphones push us away from reflection and towards a reactive approach to life and life’s decisions. This is unfortunate because reactive decision-making is often driven more by fear than by our deepest values.

Reactive decision-making is associated with less capacity for sustained attention, more distractibility, and more impulsivity. And all of these are symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD).

The impact of our electronic gadgets on our ability to be effective with tasks that require focus can be considerable. One study on just email (before the onset of the many alternative messaging services that are even more intrusive) found that the effect is roughly like being high on marijuana.

Several studies have found a negative association between cellphone use and academic performance (Judd, 2014; Karpinski, Kirschner, Ozer, Mellott, & Ochwo, 2013; Rosen, Carrier, & Cheever, 2013). In particular, a link has been identified between smartphone multitasking and a decline in academic performance (Rosen et al., 2013). In a sample of 451 US college students, a study identified a negative relationship between the use of social networking sites and GPA, and this relationship was moderated by multitasking (Karpinski et al., 2013).

In addition to cognitive changes smartphone use is also linked to emotional changes including more anger, irritability and anxiety. The association between smartphone use and stress and anxiety has been shown in multiple studies.

Are you at risk of overuse of your smartphone?

  • Do you ever miss work due to smartphone use?
  • Do you sometimes have a hard time concentrating in class or at work because of smartphone use or notifications?
  • Do you ever get light-headed or feel dizzy from using your smartphone?
  • Do you sometimes feel you couldn’t stand it if you lost your smartphone?

According to Korean researchers, these are some of the symptoms of a proposed smartphone use disorder.

What to do about our relationships with our smartphones?

The answer would seem to be obvious, put them down, consult them less often.

However, billions of dollars of research and development work has gone into making the apps on our smartphones more “user friendly” and “sticky” – the more time we spend using our smartphones and interacting with our apps the more likely we are to buy things.

So it isn’t easy to put away our phones.

Two Small Steps

Thinking this through with my two patients I came up with two steps that are more in line with the harm reduction approach to addiction than the abstinence model (giving up the phone altogether)…

  1. Spend half a day going through your phone’s notification settings and turning off notifications (particularly notifications accompanied by a sound) for all of the apps that you don’t absolutely need to stay connected with. I would make a strong pitch that you allowed no more than one instant messaging app to give you notifications and perhaps an email app as well. You are much better off scheduling a reminder to check various social media sites than allowing your day to be interrupted constantly with notifications. The time you spend up front changing your settin him him him himgs will more than repay itself in peace of mind…

How to disable notifications on your iPhone.

How to disable notifications on your Android.

2.  Put an app that enhances reflection front and center on your home screen. For example a mindfulness meditation app or even an app that plays calming music. And make a deal with yourself that you’ll spend a couple of minutes listening to a quick guided meditation or nature sounds or quiet music before you check social media of go shopping online.

For More Information


Facebook Causes Depression

Smart Phones May Disrupt Sleep


Relationships among smartphone addiction, anxiety, and family relations. Nazir S. Hawi & Maya Samaha
Behaviour & Information Technology Vol. 36 , Iss. 10,2017

Kwon, M., Lee, J., Won, W., Park, J., Min, J., Hahn, C., . . . Kim, D. (2013). Development and validation of a smartphone addiction scale (SAS). PloS One, 8(2), e56936. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056936

Duke, É., & Montag, C. (2017). Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported productivity. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 6, 90-95. doi:10.1016/j.abrep.2017.07.002

Bian, M., & Leung, L. (2015). Linking loneliness, shyness, smartphone addiction symptoms, and patterns of smartphone use to social capital. Social Science Computer Review, 33(1), 61-79. doi:10.1177/0894439314528779