Why you should care
Because kicking the smartphone habit is a global problem.
Divya Aggarwal greets the Mumbai morning at the sound of her phone’s alarm and unwinds by watching Netflix on her phone in the evening. In between, the 35-year-old is constantly tapping out WhatsApp messages to her pals, video-chatting with her nephew or taking notes for work — all on her phone.
At least Aggarwal has a decent excuse to stay attached to her device: She works for Twitter. Still, she knows it’s not a healthy connection when she keeps picking her phone up constantly while out on dates or with friends — even though her companions are often doing the same. “I feel really bad about it, but that’s the addiction level — you can’t keep your phone down,” she says. Aggarwal is far from alone, and a recent global survey showed her country is particularly phone-addled:
56 percent of respondents in India said their phones were like their best friends, while 48 percent said they spend too much time on their phones — the highest numbers across four key countries.
In a survey by phone-maker Motorola, Indians registered the highest attachment and preoccupation, and also the most desire for help. A whopping 78 percent say they love their phones, though 53 percent say they would be happier if they spent less time on their phones.
The results among the 4,418 respondents in the United States, Brazil, France and India were alarming. Overall, 37 percent considered their phone their best friend — though that number climbs to 53 percent for respondents ages 16 to 20. Older users were more likely to consider the phone a “teammate.” (The survey was conducted in November and December with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.)
Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist and professor at Harvard Medical School who helped conduct the study, says the findings reveal similarities across generations and continents. “Among the things that were commonalities were people seeing the phone as an extension of themselves, something indispensable to their lives, something they really cared about [and] something they also were starting to lose some control over,” Etcoff says.
But the numbers in India stood out. The world’s second most populous country appears more in love with its phones than other nations in part, Etcoff says, because of social media. Forty-one percent of Indian respondents reported “constant” checking of social media — 20 or more times per day — compared to 38 percent in Brazil, 25 percent in the U.S. and 16 percent in France. “For whatever reason, phones in India are used more for social connectivity,” she notes.
Users across the board — particularly younger ones — are acutely aware that they overuse their phones, and are searching for ways to cut back. One problem, Etcoff says, is the term “smartphone addiction” itself. Although phone alerts can have druglike effects on the brain, Etcoff says the medical community has not yet classified phone overuse as a true addiction — and you don’t have to go cold turkey to fix it. Etcoff recommends small steps: Get an old-fashioned alarm clock so your phone doesn’t wake you in the morning, get a spouse or close friend to enforce phone breaks, review app usage and check your moods to assess whether your phone time is well-spent.
Aggarwal feels smarter and more up to date by keeping up with the news and her social media contacts. She lives alone, so her phone keeps her connected with family and friends. But she is trying to cut back, attempting half-hour phone breaks — though it’s hard, because she needs to stay connected for work. One small separation Aggarwal has been able to maintain: keeping the phone on a side table at night rather than next to her pillow.