Cell Phone Addiction – It’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg…

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So as I’m strolling through the lunch room today, just chatting with students, I got to celebrate a birthday with a student, I discussed driving with some sophomores (including the importance of learning how to back up!), and I was asked by one student, “When does cell phone use become an addiction?” He argued that some people are required to use phones all the time (“maybe as part of their jobs”)–and wanted to know if I would consider that to be an addiction.

It was an interesting question to me, because I found myself periodically on my phone this past week as I was out in the wilderness trying to disconnect and enjoy some downtime. I couldn’t allow myself to stop thinking about all that might be happening back at school, and I found that the desire to stay informed by way of my cell phone was at times (dare I say) irresistible.

So I answered the question by explaining that addiction is not necessarily about the use of something, but rather about our ability to control the use (or non-use) of that particular item. It’s not wrong to watch TV, but can I just watch for a half hour or do I find myself getting dragged in to watching for hours at a time? It’s not wrong to eat (in fact, it’s quite necessary), but am I unable to control the times that I eat, the amount that I eat, and/or the types of food that I consume? Likewise, cell phones can be useful tools. But do I constantly find myself being sucked into text messages, snapchats, apps, games, email, etc… and unable to step away and engage in other healthy, quality activities?

Interestingly, as I was reading Irresistible this week, the author made the same point, noting that cell phones are only part of the technology problem. Likewise, games can be problematic–40% of people who play Worlds of Warcraft develop an addiction (p. 17)–and something as insignificant as a Fitbit can easily addict us to the endorphin high that we get from reaching 10,000 steps. … and then 11,000 steps, then 12,000 steps, then… (p. 18).

Just something to think about: it may not be your Smartphone that is the problem. Is there some other form of technology that has taken hold in your life and is driving you to do things you wouldn’t normally consider doing (like waking up at 3:00am to play WoW for 4 hours before school/work, or drinking coffee at 9:00pm to get the extra kick you need to walk 4 more miles so you can hit 20,000 steps for the day)? Maybe it’s Fantasy Football or the next episode of Game of Thrones that you haven’t watched yet (or the need to check emails while you’re sitting quietly under a cedar tree in western CO waiting for a bull elk to emerge into the meadow). Is there some form of technology in your life that has become your addiction but you just haven’t realized (or admitted) it yet?



Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.

Bonus Article (long but thought-provoking): Our Minds Can Be Hijacked–The Tech Insiders Who Fear a Smartphone Dystopia