Concept Technology
Your Competitive Advantage

Addicts & Zombies: We’re Obsessed With Our Smartphones

Published on May 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm in Tech Trends.

One hundred seventy-six million individuals are in an exclusive, addictive relationship — with their smartphone.

That’s the number of people whom mobile analytics firm Flurry recently classified as “mobile addicts,” which Flurry defines as those who launch smartphone apps more than 60 times a day — six times more than the average smartphone user.

The number of mobile addicts has grown by 123 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to Flurry, which looks at data from 500,000 apps across 1.3 billion mobile devices. And, of course, the most addicted are teens and college students.

In 2013, Pew Research Center found that one in four teens are “cell-mostly” internet users, meaning they primarily access the Web through their phones. If kids and young adults are so plugged into their virtual worlds, how do they interact with the physical world?

That’s one question that Don Rodrigues of Vanderbilt University’s English Department tries to answer in a course he teaches on the relationship between medical ethics and literature for Vanderbilt’s Weekend Academy, a program that my daughter Adison recently attended. His metaphor for how young people interact with their physical world: as zombies.

He shares this story:

“The other day, I saw this young woman walking out of the post office on campus, making these absurd pseudo-emotive faces. Of course, she was Snapchatting, or at the very least, taking selfies with her phone. Completely unaware of the physical environment around her, she tripped up the stairs, dropped her books and her mail, and nearly gave herself a concussion in the process.

“Her experience may be extreme, but in fact, her inhabitation of the world is more or less typical of those around her, including people like me. I would not say this issue is confined to adolescents.

With our headphones plugged in to shut out interaction with the world around us and our smartphones increasingly acting as communication hubs, we have become zombies of a sort — psychologically, emotionally, one might even say cognitively detached from our surroundings and from other physical beings.”

Researchers agree.

  • In a March 2013 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers explored how the pervasiveness of mobile phones influences face-to-face conversations. They found that the presence of mobile phones can interfere with human relationships. Mobile phones “can have negative effects on closeness, connection and conversation quality … an effect that is most clear when individuals are discussing personally meaningful topics.”
  • Researchers also have posed questions about social media. A September 2013 study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science found that participants who were asked to post more Facebook updates than usual reported a decrease in loneliness.

This second study confirms the belief that technology can make you feel connected without actually being connected, which is both the beauty and the curse of technology.

Most of us have experienced a time during which our preoccupation with technology — from nonstop texting to playing mindlessly repetitive games — has crossed over into addict, zombie territory. The good thing is that as long are you’re aware of your behavior, you can always cross back.


This post also appeared in The Tennessean.