Are you a slave to your smart phone?

Mobile technology has revolutionised the ways in which we live, work and play, with smartphones in particular having experienced an unprecedented rise in popularity and prevalence since the turn of the century. Research undertaken by eMarketer for The European Travel Commission, found that nearly 50% of the British population now uses a smartphone, with trends forecasting that by 2017 this figure will increase to beyond 65%.


Many people revere the fact that it is now possible to stay in touch and to execute any number of daily tasks and chores while on the move, in bed, on holiday, in the bath… pretty much wherever takes your fancy. But, as is so commonly the case, there is another, darker side to progress. Smartphone addiction, a turn of phrase that may have started out as a bit of a joke, a tongue-in-cheek phrase addressed to a friend whose mobile device seemed to become more of an appendage than an asset, is now becoming recognised as endemic within society, and can quickly get out of hand.


Smartphone usage is contributing to the blurring of boundaries between the personal and the professional, which often results in a negative equation of work-life balance and an anxious need to be in continuous contact with our devices. An article in the Evening Standard magazine last week spoke of ‘the dangers of being constantly connected’, and cited a 2012 survey by SecurEnvoy which found that 66% of Britons experience ‘nomophobia’, or ‘no mobile’ phobia. Meanwhile, the Evening Standard reported that Dr James Roberts, of Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business in Texas, said that addictions to mobile devices are driven by “materialism and impulsiveness”, and that “mobiles are eroding our personal relationships”. The article featured the case of ‘digital guru’ Aleks Krotoski, who visited a centre for recovering cyber addicts in LA: “I have a problem. I need [mobile devices]. How can you disentangle this co-dependent relationship?” Krotoski asked. “It’s this constant battle between myself and this switch-tasking demon that causes the stress” (Evening Standard magazine, 26.7.13).


The Evening Standard‘s article followed Metro‘s report on ‘Fear of Missing Out’, or FoMo, which refers to a “stubborn reluctance to put down our smartphones and tablets for more than 17 seconds” (Metro, 15.7.13). The Daily Telegraph refers to FoMo as “the fear that everyone else is having more fun, more excitement and more rewarding, anecdote-worthy experiences than you”, whether in our professional, personal or social lives. And nowadays smartphones ensure that we can keep checking up on this.


On Sunday The Daily Mail reported that the Chief Executive of Swiss Telecoms, Carsten Schloter, who committed suicide after the breakdown of his marriage in 2009 was “dangerously addicted to his smartphone”. In May of this year The independent reported that Schloter spoke to the Swiss newspaper, Schweiz am Sonntag, about his difficulties: “Modern communications devices have their downside…the most dangerous thing is to fall into a mode of permanent activity and continuously consult one’s smartphone to see whether any new mails have come in. Everyone should switch off their mobile phone from time to time.” However, The Daily Mail reported that Schloter found it “impossible to turn off” his phone, and reports from The Daily Mail and The Independent, amongst others, are connecting his death with his smartphone addiction. He said that the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and personal life, resulting in less and less time to get a break from the workspace, “makes you feel as if you are being strangled”.


At The Grove we understand the paradox that although new technologies are often seen to free us up, they all too often enslave us and take over our lives. If you feel panicky or anxious about being separated from your mobile device, if you find that you are checking it compulsively, or maybe sleeping with it in your bed or waking up to see if you have missed any calls, messages or updates then it may be worth thinking about getting some help to break the attachment. But it can be hard to make these changes on your own, so let’s talk first and see what we can do together to help manage your smartphone usage in both your personal and professional life, and to redraw those boundaries between the real and virtual worlds.