Smartphone addiction is real, and we all probably need to do something about it

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in iPhone

If you feel like you're being controlled by your smartphone, don't feel alone -- smartphone addiction is a real thing. So, let's talk about it, and how to deal with it.

A hand holds a smartphone displaying notifications over a cat photo wallpaper, with indoor plants blurred in the background.
How to dial back your screen time



We've all done it -- we've lost entire days to the siren call of social media or mobile gaming, or even just binge-watching our favorite TV shows. While it's not bad if it happens occasionally, there's a good chance it probably happens more than you'd care to admit.

And unfortunately, that's pretty normal.

Let's discuss the dangers of too much screen time, what constitutes healthy limits, and how to hold yourself accountable.

What the experts say about screen time



For as great as they are, excessive smartphone usage is linked to many negative effects on physical and mental health. This is far from an exhaustive list of detrimental effects that excessive digital device use has on the average person, but it consists of the more well-studied phenomena.

Nearsightedness as an epidemic



Excessive use of screen time has been linked to the development of myopia -- or nearsightedness. As it turns out, looking at screens for too long can physically change the structure of the eyeball, causing it to elongate from front to back.

This elongation hinders the eye's ability to properly bend light, which is necessary for sharp vision at a distance.

Some experts believe that by 2050, over 50% of people will have myopia. This is especially true for children whose eyes are more likely to deform with increased screen usage.

Experts suggest that those who use digital devices -- especially smartphones -- get better at holding the devices further away.

Smartphone displaying a message about keeping the phone at arm's length to protect eyesight, with a colorful gradient background.
Apple's screen distance warning



Apple has a setting to help with this, too. Any iPhone with Face ID can automatically remind you to hold the phone at least twelve inches from your face.

To enable this setting, you can follow the instructions below.

How to enable distance reminders

  1. Open the Settings app

  2. Tap Screen Time

  3. Tap Screen Distance

  4. Toggle on Screen Distance



Now, holding your iPhone closer than 12 inches will cause a full-screen reminder to pop up, reminding you to pull your phone further away from your face. This setting can help reduce eyestrain and reduce the chance of myopia in children.

Chronic dry eyes



In addition to myopia, excessive screen usage causes a significant uptick in chronic dry eye. When we use smartphones and tablets, we blink significantly less, which is a major problem.

Some studies, though somewhat limited, have shown a correlation between excessive smartphone use and dry eye disease.

As it turns out, you need to blink quite a bit. Blinking acts like a windshield wiper that clears away irritants and remoistens the eye and the act of blinking itself signals your body to produce tears in the first place.

So, if you're blinking less, you're producing fewer tears, which can cause your tear glands and tear ducts to atrophy, producing less ocular fluid overall.

Again, the risk is greatest in children, but chronic dry eye is also on the rise in adults.

Smartphone use is detrimental to your mental health



Smartphones haven't been around all that long but are already impacting our mental health. While studies are somewhat nascent, many of them show that increased smartphone use has been strongly correlated with the development of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.

As Colombia University's Department of Psychiatry has pointed out, a constant stream of notifications and updates can lead to anxiety. This is often called FOMO -- or fear of missing out -- in younger users. It leads them to believe that they will be left out of cultural and social moments if they do not engage in the same behavior they see on their timeline.

It isn't just fear of missing out, though. It's also an increasing feeling of isolation and inadequacy. It's easy to feel inadequate when you are shown highly manicured Instagram feeds of beautiful vacations, manicured outfits, and smiling faces.

However, it's important to realize that you are being shown something designed to be visually appealing and not realistic.

Smartphone addiction



Smartphones on their own aren't necessarily a bad thing. They help keep us connected to loved ones, enable us to capture special moments with a convenient camera, and keep us safe in dangerous situations.

However, the platforms that have arisen because of them are a different story.

Social media is designed to be addictive by constantly learning what you're more likely to look at and then showing you more of it. That's why your feed will look different from everyone else you know. This is largely done to keep you scrolling and ensure you look at as many ads as possible.

Mobile gaming is another place where addiction is highly relevant. Blind-box or gacha-style games encourage users to spend money on the chance to get rare game items and characters, the same way a scratch-off ticket offers the promise of a cheap windfall.

Hands holding a smartphone playing a battle royale game with on-screen controls and a visible digital landscape.
While many mobile games are free, they offer players incentives to buy into in-app purchases



Similar to scratch-off tickets, it's easy for gamers to spend a lot of money without realizing it, as it's often rationalized as being a relatively inexpensive purchase that a user may make multiple times.

Again, this is most dangerous in people under 25. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, isn't fully developed in that age cohort.

It's also especially dangerous to people who have issues with impulse control of any kind. This includes people with substance abuse disorders, mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder and major depressive disorder, and neurodevelopment disorders like ADHD and autism.

Limiting your screen time use



So, you might be wondering what the next step is. It's important to note that we're not suggesting you go completely off-grid and drop your iPhone, iPad, or computer into the nearest large body of water. We're not even suggesting you delete your X and Instagram accounts.

However, as the saying goes: everything in moderation. Learning to disengage from screens when possible has numerous benefits to your physical and mental health. Sure, it will likely be difficult initially, but it won't always be.

Our first suggestion is to become aware of your current screen time habits. Apple automatically tracks your screen time on your iPhone and iPad. Knowing how much you're using your devices can help you figure out where to go.

To check your screen time on iPhone and iPad, you can open the Settings app, then tap Screen Time.

Two smartphones displaying screen time usage graphs with daily average statistics.
Apple allows you to view detailed statistic on your iPhone screen time and app usage



There you'll see a quick rundown of how often you use your devices, and it might surprise you just how often you use them.

Experts suggest you get two hours of "personal" screen time per day, which isn't limited to just using your phone. That's across all screens -- gaming, phones, web browsing, and TV.

If your numbers are particularly high, we suggest starting with a modest decrease. "Cold turkey" is one of the worst ways to break a habit or addiction.

For example, if you have eight hours of personal screen time daily, find out where to set some limits. We suggest limiting time on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and X.

How to set screen time limits per app on iPhone and iPad

  1. Open the Settings app

  2. Tap Screen Time

  3. Tap App Limits

  4. Tap Add Limit

  5. Tap the category of app you wish to limit

  6. Tap the app you wish to limit

  7. Set the time limit you think is reasonable -- we suggest a 10-15% decrease at first

  8. Tap Add



You can also set specific times when all apps, save for the ones you specify, are locked. This is called "downtime."

Two smartphones displaying screen time management features, one showing settings and the other indicating app usage limits reached.
Activating downtime
How to set downtime iPhone and iPad
  1. Open the Settings app

  2. Tap Screen Time

  3. Tap Downtime

  4. Tap Toggle on downtime

  5. Set the hours you wish downtime to occur



By default, the Phone app, Messages, and Apple Maps are the only apps enabled during downtime. However, in the Screen Time menu, you can select apps in Always Allowed to be enabled during downtime.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 24,387member
    Steve Jobs and Bill Gates knew this over a decade ago. Even though they understood it, this was foisted on us anyway. 

    Profit above all. 

    Thanks for a well-considered article to remind us of what we're doing to ourselves. 
    edited May 10 Ofer
  • Reply 2 of 21
    M68000M68000 Posts: 781member
    gatorguy said:
    Steve Jobs and Bill Gates knew this over a decade ago. Even though they understood it, this was foisted on us anyway. 

    Profit above all. 

    Thanks for a well-considered article to remind us of what we're doing to ourselves. 
    The biggest problem may be distracted driving.  People just have to give it a break and pay attention when they are driving.  Many lives depend on it.

    if anyone reading this has children,  set the right example. 
    edited May 10 OferAlex1N40domi
  • Reply 3 of 21
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,746member
    gatorguy said:
    Steve Jobs and Bill Gates knew this over a decade ago. Even though they understood it, this was foisted on us anyway. 

    Profit above all. 

    Thanks for a well-considered article to remind us of what we're doing to ourselves. 
    I'd take the analysis a bit deeper than that and look at the purpose of the device.

    The original vision for personal computing from pioneers like Doug Engelbart and Alan Kay was that of memory augmentation/near instant and intuitive access to information. Especially for the purpose of educating and elevating humanity. Steve Jobs held up those same ideals when he spoke of the computer being "a bicycle for the mind". Again, with personal computing technology being used to augment things humans aren't good at (rote, repetitive tasks) so that we can focus on what we are good at (creating/building).

    Having computing power as seamlessly integrated in our lives as possible (portability being one step in that evolution) was always the dream. However, the "profit above all" you mention is when social media companies started utilizing human psychology to ensure that people spend as much time on their platforms as possible (maximizing their profit). Gone was the vision of computing power being used to augment and elevate our abilities, now it was being used to exploit our weaknesses (addiction, need for connection in an increasingly isolated world).

    With the gold rush to harvest as much information about what we do on our devices as possible for profit, and device addiction maximizing the amount of information which can be harvested, it's even clearer how far we've strayed from those ideals. That scene from the Matrix where humans are being used for energy to power the machines (AI) isn't too far off. Just replace energy with information about what we do.
    edited May 10 Alex1N40domikurai_kage
  • Reply 4 of 21
    danoxdanox Posts: 3,095member
    That means my eyesight was made for Smartphones/iPads at birth..... :smile: 
    VictorMortimerkurai_kage
  • Reply 5 of 21
    Addiction typically occurs and continues to take hold because the rest of the affected person suffers from a lack of balance in the rest of their lives:
    - happy significant other relationship-if only platonic
    - several close friends and acquaintances that know about your life on a weekly basis
    - few to no significant health problems; go to the gym, drink less, eat vegetables/ fruit/ pro-biotoics
    - happy family and work peer relationships
    - financial life in order - living within your means, not above your station, and with future savings in mind
    - wide range of varied interests, inside and outside
    - life goals not based on comparing yourself to others
    2 or more of these not met or not possible - fix first
    Easy. peasy. Addictions can't fit into a balanced life.
    You can do it all - including maximize the fun and utility in screen time.
    Alex1N40domi
  • Reply 6 of 21
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,746member
    gatorguy said:
    Steve Jobs and Bill Gates knew this over a decade ago. Even though they understood it, this was foisted on us anyway. 
    To summarize what I said above for the TLDR crowd that needs a tagline:

    The companies which profit most from knowing everything we do on our devices foisted this on us, not the device creators (who only profit from the sale of the device, not how much we use it).
    tmayAlex1N40domikurai_kage
  • Reply 7 of 21
    kdupuis77kdupuis77 Posts: 120member
    I figure it evens out a bit given that I work half the year out to sea on a ship.. So I am often "de-toxing" for weeks or months at a time without reception lol. I mean, I use my alarm, listen to music and watch the occasional spurt of downloaded YouTube videos underway, but get more solid paper reading time in out there. It's funny after arrival when you look around and see everyone with their phones jammed into their faces... I often joke with my crew by walking around holding my iPhone up to my face like it's a crack pipe and huffing it lol. My iPhone stays in my cabin all day when I'm working, but the GenZ people we're getting lately can't even handle not having it on them without wireless earbuds surgically implanted into both their ear canals.
    Alex1N
  • Reply 8 of 21
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 24,387member
    auxio said:
    gatorguy said:
    Steve Jobs and Bill Gates knew this over a decade ago. Even though they understood it, this was foisted on us anyway. 
    To summarize what I said above for the TLDR crowd that needs a tagline:

    The companies which profit most from knowing everything we do on our devices foisted this on us, not the device creators (who only profit from the sale of the device, not how much we use it).
    Both men, along with many others on that bleeding edge a decade-plus ago, knew to keep their own children off smart devices, whether iPhone or Android or "other", for good reasons that went beyond social sharing or data harvesting. Many of us were probably even aware of it, yet chose to ignore it in our own homes 
    https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/why-steve-jobs-bill-gates-both-severely-limited-their-kids-tech-use.html
    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/05/how-bill-gates-mark-cuban-and-others-limit-their-kids-tech-use.html

    Apparently, many of us are still choosing to ignore them. 


    edited May 10 Alex1N
  • Reply 9 of 21
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,955member
    gatorguy said:
    Steve Jobs and Bill Gates knew this over a decade ago. Even though they understood it, this was foisted on us anyway. 

    Profit above all. 

    Thanks for a well-considered article to remind us of what we're doing to ourselves. 
    What a silly take. It’s not a profit conspiracy, it’s consumers like myself making a choice. I want to use my smartphone. 

    Do you likewise think alcohol or the sweets industry is a devious scheme by the elite? They’re just options, enjoy in moderation. 
    dewmetmay40domikurai_kage
  • Reply 10 of 21
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,955member
    Addiction typically occurs and continues to take hold because the rest of the affected person suffers from a lack of balance in the rest of their lives:
    - happy significant other relationship-if only platonic
    - several close friends and acquaintances that know about your life on a weekly basis
    - few to no significant health problems; go to the gym, drink less, eat vegetables/ fruit/ pro-biotoics
    - happy family and work peer relationships
    - financial life in order - living within your means, not above your station, and with future savings in mind
    - wide range of varied interests, inside and outside
    - life goals not based on comparing yourself to others
    2 or more of these not met or not possible - fix first
    Easy. peasy. Addictions can't fit into a balanced life.
    You can do it all - including maximize the fun and utility in screen time.
    Actually, that isn’t how chemical addictions work at all. Addiction can and does affect people that meet all of your virtue list. 
    tmay
  • Reply 11 of 21
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,533member
    Watched my neighbor bring her young daughter out to the school bus this morning. Attention and focus on child: 20%. Attention and focus on her iPhone: 80%. Self imposed obliviousness. Didn't even look up to wave at the kiddo as she was climbing up into the bus. I suppose mom didn't want to miss seeing her latest TikTok break dancing video like count going up into double digits. 

    As mentioned in the article, the vast majority of phone-heads are not actually addicted to the phone itself. They're addicted to social media, game playing, doom scrolling, TikTok-ing, etc. I've seen several friends no longer maintain the relationships they had in meat space. Their entire world and social life exists on the other side of their phone's screen. It's no longer exclusive to the trailing edge of the boomers and younger generation either. Old people, which is defined as anyone older than me (OTM Generation), have joined in on the fun as well. Who needs real friends when everything you need in life is right there in your hands?

    All first world countries are only one major EMP event away reverting back to the stone age with no practical skills to survive. At the very least everyone should consider investing in an edible phone case so they can enjoy one last meal while staring into the blackness of a phone screen that will never come back to life, at approximately the same time as they are also transitioning into their own post-living state. 
    Alex1N40domi
  • Reply 12 of 21
    danvmdanvm Posts: 1,449member
    While reading your article, it came to my mind a Windows Phone ad,



    Maybe MS was right all this time. :D
  • Reply 13 of 21
    I'm not buying it.  The fact that I'm nearsighted has NOTHING to do with smartphones.  I was nearsighted decades before smartphones were invented.  I was nearsighted when phones had to be wired to the wall.

    And... addiction?  Seriously?  That just trivializes what a real addiction is.  Heroin is addictive.  Caffeine is addictive.  Phones aren't.
  • Reply 14 of 21
    danvm said:
    While reading your article, it came to my mind a Windows Phone ad,



    Maybe MS was right all this time. :D
    A phone that sucks so much that you won't want to use it.

    I will never understand the people who claimed Windoze phones were great.  I only ever touched one once, it was absolutely horrible.  Those awful tiles... just... ugh.  You've seen Windoze 8, it's like that, but without a way to install Classic Shell.
  • Reply 15 of 21
    M68000M68000 Posts: 781member
    I'm not buying it.  The fact that I'm nearsighted has NOTHING to do with smartphones.  I was nearsighted decades before smartphones were invented.  I was nearsighted when phones had to be wired to the wall.

    And... addiction?  Seriously?  That just trivializes what a real addiction is.  Heroin is addictive.  Caffeine is addictive.  Phones aren't.
    You are welcome to search online for info from professionals in eye care and you will find what they say.
    gatorguy40domi
  • Reply 16 of 21
    tmaytmay Posts: 6,437member
    M68000 said:
    I'm not buying it.  The fact that I'm nearsighted has NOTHING to do with smartphones.  I was nearsighted decades before smartphones were invented.  I was nearsighted when phones had to be wired to the wall.

    And... addiction?  Seriously?  That just trivializes what a real addiction is.  Heroin is addictive.  Caffeine is addictive.  Phones aren't.
    You are welcome to search online for info from professionals in eye care and you will find what they say.
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nearsightedness/symptoms-causes/syc-20375556

    Risk factors

    Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing nearsightedness, including:

    • Genetics. Nearsightedness tends to run in families. If one of your parents is nearsighted, your risk of developing the condition is increased. The risk is higher if both parents are nearsighted.
    • Prolonged close-up activities. Reading or doing other close-up activities for a long time is associated with an increased risk of nearsightedness.
    • Screen time. Studies have shown that children who use computers or smart devices for long periods have a greater risk of developing nearsightedness.
    • Environmental conditions. Some studies support the idea that not spending enough time outdoors may increase the risk of nearsightedness.
    I'm so old that I remember people telling me not to sit so close to the (then b&w) TV. 

    gatorguy
  • Reply 17 of 21
    danvmdanvm Posts: 1,449member
    danvm said:
    While reading your article, it came to my mind a Windows Phone ad,



    Maybe MS was right all this time. :D
    A phone that sucks so much that you won't want to use it.

    I will never understand the people who claimed Windoze phones were great.  I only ever touched one once, it was absolutely horrible.  Those awful tiles... just... ugh.  You've seen Windoze 8, it's like that, but without a way to install Classic Shell.
    I had a Windows Phone for a few months, and it was very good.  At the time it had a few things ahead of the iPhone.  IMO, it was ahead of Android and as good as iPhone, even though they were very different.  
  • Reply 18 of 21
    mpantonempantone Posts: 2,104member
    I have a great solution. Just use the Internet less. Go gardening, hiking, bake cookies, touch grass. Have a beer at a ballpark with a friend.

    Less AppleInsider and more apple pie.

     :) 
    edited May 11 gatorguytmay40domi
  • Reply 19 of 21
    M68000M68000 Posts: 781member
    danvm said:
    While reading your article, it came to my mind a Windows Phone ad,



    Maybe MS was right all this time. :D
    A phone that sucks so much that you won't want to use it.

    I will never understand the people who claimed Windoze phones were great.  I only ever touched one once, it was absolutely horrible.  Those awful tiles... just... ugh.  You've seen Windoze 8, it's like that, but without a way to install Classic Shell.
    Have to disagree,  i had neighbor who had one and i thought the tiles were pretty cool.  MS had a brief window to do something with the market, but failed.  I wonder if they ever think about trying to get back into it.  They could give away free office 365 app licenses as incentive.

  • Reply 20 of 21
    M68000M68000 Posts: 781member
    tmay said:
    M68000 said:
    I'm not buying it.  The fact that I'm nearsighted has NOTHING to do with smartphones.  I was nearsighted decades before smartphones were invented.  I was nearsighted when phones had to be wired to the wall.

    And... addiction?  Seriously?  That just trivializes what a real addiction is.  Heroin is addictive.  Caffeine is addictive.  Phones aren't.
    You are welcome to search online for info from professionals in eye care and you will find what they say.
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nearsightedness/symptoms-causes/syc-20375556

    Risk factors

    Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing nearsightedness, including:

    • Genetics. Nearsightedness tends to run in families. If one of your parents is nearsighted, your risk of developing the condition is increased. The risk is higher if both parents are nearsighted.
    • Prolonged close-up activities. Reading or doing other close-up activities for a long time is associated with an increased risk of nearsightedness.
    • Screen time. Studies have shown that children who use computers or smart devices for long periods have a greater risk of developing nearsightedness.
    • Environmental conditions. Some studies support the idea that not spending enough time outdoors may increase the risk of nearsightedness.
    I'm so old that I remember people telling me not to sit so close to the (then b&w) TV. 

    Imagine the puzzled look on today’s teens if you asked if they know what a horizontal size or vertical hold knob did.  Lol
    tmay
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