Noah Kravitz is in recovery. The moment he woke up, he used to reach for his smartphone to check e-mails, Twitter and news. “I’d check e-mail and Twitter obsessively throughout the day on the phone as well,” Kravitz says. “Sometimes I snuck off to do it in private because I was in a social situation where I’d find it annoying if someone else pulled their phone out, or because I didn’t want to get ‘caught’ checking e-mail yet again.”
Kravitz, a technology journalist in California, suffers from smartphone addiction. Now he’s aware of it and is trying to cure it by stopping himself from reaching for his phone.
And Kravitz is far from the only smartphone junkie. In a recent survey of Stanford University students, 10 percent of iPhone users categorized themselves as full-blown addicts. Sixty-nine percent have their iPhone with them in bed, while 41 percent said the loss of their iPhone would be tragic. Only 6 percent said they were not addicted at all.
A recent experiment at the University of Maryland asked 200 students to give up all media for a day. After 24 hours, many showed withdrawal symptoms.
Internet addiction is not an official disorder, and neither is smartphone addiction. But extrapolating the Stanford figures suggests millions of people around the world are now severely fixated on their phones.
“Thanks to smartphones, Internet addiction will keep increasing,” notes Dr. Hilarie Cash, founder of the pioneering ReSTART camp for Internet addicts. “And smartphone addiction is potentially more dangerous than mere Internet addiction, because now you can have your drug with you at all times.”
Smartphones, coupled with Facebook, present a radical change in internet addiction, a condition that used to be limited to game-playing men.
“Today the Internet obsession has spread to girls, and they’re obsessed with Facebook,” notes Dr. Jane Morris, a psychiatrist in Edinburgh. “That’s even more dangerous than online gaming, because it’s not a fantasy world. You have to seem glamorous and have lots of friends. Facebook obsession affects all kinds of girls.”
Since becoming aware of his addiction, Kravitz sees his symptoms in others.
“Lots of people are expected by their employers to keep their smartphones turned on and at the ready around the clock,” he notes. “There are so many compelling reasons to chain yourself to your smartphone. ... But at what point do those ‘good reasons’ morph into ‘excuses for addiction’?”
60 seconds with ...
Ryan Van Cleave, professor, former Internet addict
How did you become addicted to the internet?
I played World of Warcraft. Because it has players around the world, it goes on when you’re not there. I felt an obligation to my online character to always play. I played 50-60 hours a week. My wife complained, I lost my job and I didn’t see my children growing up. But none of that mattered to me. Playing seemed a very reasonable thing to do.
What did it take to get rid of the addiction?
Once I was driving with my family at Christmas, and all I could think of was that we needed to pull over at an Internet hot spot. My wife got angry, and I took a walk to cool off. I walked by a river and all of a sudden wanted to jump in because I hated the person I’d become. I quit, but I had withdrawal symptoms. I lost my friends online, and because of the addiction I didn’t really have any real-life friends. The sad thing is that this is becoming a global epidemic, and people don’t know where to go for help.