Tech & Society

McGill U Researcher: Smartphone Addiction Is Normal Need to Connect on Overdrive

Smartphone Addiction Is Normal Need to Connect on Overdrive 

We stare at our phones all the time not because the devices themselves are addictive, but because we're driven to socialize, according to a recent literature review by researchers at McGill University.

Though the researchers agree "that the hyper-connectedness and unpredictable rewards of mobile technology can modulate negative affect," according to an abstract of their work, the real driver of the addiction is a need to monitor and be monitored by other people.

"There is a lot of panic surrounding this topic," said Samuel Veissière, who led the research, according to a McGill news release on the research. "We're trying to offer some good news and show that it is our desire for human interaction that is addictive and there are fairly simple solutions to deal with this."

As a social species, humans have evolved to require input from other humans to understand what behaviors are and are not culturally appropriate and to look to one another to find meaning, goals and identity, according to Veissière, an anthropologist and cognitive scientist and assistant professor in McGill's Division of Division of Social and Transculutural Psychiatry. Smartphones and the hyper-connectivity they offer can tap into this normal aspect of human behavior at a pace and scale that can turn a healthy impulse into an unhealthy addiction.

Veissière and his coauthor compare it to our evolutionarily derived desire for sweet foods in their paper.

"In post-industrial environments where foods are abundant and readily available, our cravings for fat and sugar sculpted by distant evolutionary pressures can easily go into insatiable overdrive and lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease… the pro-social needs and rewards [of smartphone use as a means to connect] can similarly be hijacked to produce a manic theater of hyper-social monitoring," they write.

To regain control of your smartphone use, the researchers suggest reframing it as a normal need to connect with other people, turning off push notifications, setting appropriate times to check your device and creating "intentional protocols" with family members, work contacts and social circles to establish communications expectations.

"Rather than start regulating the tech companies or the use of these devices, we need to start having a conversation about the appropriate way to use smartphones," Veissière said in a recent interview. "Parents and teachers need to be made aware of how important this is."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

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