How to deal with smartphone addiction, and what is nomophobia? An unconventional take

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How to deal with smartphone addiction, and what is nomophobia? An unconvetional take
Some call it “problematic smartphone use”, and others call it “cell phone dependency”. Regardless of the term, we’ve all seen the victims. If you haven’t seen or noticed any, the victim could be you.

Let’s explore the signs, effects, and coping mechanisms around smartphone addiction to help you identify, acknowledge, and perhaps start dealing with the problem or help a friend in need.

1. Nomophobia: “There’s a word for what you have!”
2. Smartphone addiction: Is it like a drug?
3. You can take control: Dealing with smartphone dependency
4. Unconventional addictions call for unconventional solutions

Take a look at the bottom of the page, where we've left three polls for you to take part in!


But before that, what is nomophobia, and how does it relate to smartphone addiction?

Nomophobia: “There’s a word for what you have!”


NO MObile PHone PhoBIA or simply nomophobia is a term used to describe the psychological fear of being detached from your smartphone.

Now, before we move on.... We live in a society where people love to label. Outside of technology, this might go according to one’s sexuality, profession, or social status. In reality, people are rarely just “one thing”. That’s why labeling can be viewed as a psychological constraint rather than anything else.

Believe it or not, labeling also exists in the context of technology. For example, people who are always on their phones are often labeled timewasters; in some parts of the world, people who own an iPhone are thought to be generally wealthy; while others are dubbed as “Apple sheep” due to perhaps showing “too much” love for Apple products. Take the last one with a grain of salt n’ pepper.

Nomophobia, or being nomophobic, on the other hand, is yet another label that can be slapped onto those who simply can’t function without their phone. However, as mentioned above, this one has a solid psychological foundation, and we have to be careful around it.

For instance, don’t rely on this article to diagnose your smartphone addiction. Specialists advise that nomophobia should be diagnosed by exclusion since it’s a complex condition that shares common symptoms with other disorders.

Smartphone addiction: Is it like a drug?


No, it isn’t… First of all, there’s no physical substance involved in smartphone addiction. Yes, this sounds counterintuitive at first, but stick around...

One could be addicted to a smartphone, but what makes this item addictive? It’s what’s on the inside that counts. That’s what they say.

Really, forms of technology addiction have been considered as diagnoses since the mid-1990s. While the studies don’t necessarily focus on particular “items of addiction”, of course, it’s not hard to tell that they refer to a much broader specter of things. In the 90s, that would have been your TV, GameBoy, Walkman, or Nokia 5110 with the Snake game on it (if you were a childish businessman).

Today, technology has moved forward, but really it’s not all that different. TVs are still addictive, but in the form of streaming; the GameBoy is essentially in any phone; the walkman is again - your phone, perhaps combined with TWS earbuds, and your cell phone is well… your smartphone.

If you’ve noticed a pattern, you’re not alone. Everything is in our smartphones now. This piece would take on a thesis length if we were to list everything your phone can do. In a nutshell, you have a world of possibilities in your pocket thanks to... apps.

Consumerism is the great “superpower” of our generation, and we are really good at it. For good or bad, smartphone manufacturers and every other stakeholder that well… has a stake in what makes the smartphone a smartphone have recognized this too. This includes tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok etc.

As for phone-makers - it’s an opportunity for them to sell their product, keep you coming back to it, buy the new model, buy their subscription service, buy accessories, etc.

So yes, the theory that smartphones are addictive by design is perfectly valid. Does Apple or Samsung want you to be addicted to your phone? Not necessarily. Do they want you to be a loyal user? Absolutely.

If you’re subscribed to Apple TV and Spotify, they won’t worry about how often you use your account as long as the direct debit keeps coming through on their end, right? And if you buy a Pixel, Google won’t be too bothered about how long you decide to keep it, as long as you keep sharing your data with the tech giant - that’s a topic for a whole other story.

You can take control: Dealing with smartphone dependency


Yes, there are many tools, tips, and tricks that can help you take control of your smartphone dependency. The advantage a tech website (or tech writer) has when discussing this topic is that we know a lot about smartphones. That’s not meant to come across as a “flex”.

Sometimes it’s the less obvious patterns of consumption, sales, or sheer frustration that open your eyes for what’s otherwise tricky to comprehend.

Some traditional advice on dealing with smartphone addiction might be:

  • Make some friends and hang out with them.
  • Talk to your siblings / Strike conversations with strangers
  • Have a designated bedtime, and don’t use your phone before going to sleep
  • Turn off notifications
  • Delete certain social media apps (also known as the “no social media challenge”)

Those are great, but… What if you’re in the midst of a global pandemic and you can’t meet up with people; you don’t have siblings; you are an introvert who isn’t likely to start a conversation; you use your phone as an alarm clock; your work is related to social media?

Then you’d like to take a slightly different approach. We’ll go through a few separate sections of tips, but let’s start with your smartphone settings.

Apple iPhone & iOS: Screen Time

You might not know it, but most modern phones nowadays have dedicated software designed to help you deal with smartphone overuse. For example, for Apple products, that would be the Screen Time option in your settings, which lets you set:

  • Downtime
  • App Limits
  • Communication Limits

Downtime lets you schedule time away from the screen. You set it up, and five minutes before the time comes, a reminder appears to let you know. When downtime is on, only apps that you choose to allow and phone calls will be available. Also, you can set the same downtime for every day or customize your days in case you want a different setting for the weekend, for example.

App Limits let you, well... set certain daily app limits, like 30 minutes of Facebook, 1 hour of Instagram, and 15 minutes of adult... meditation apps!

Communication Limits are similar to app limits, except they apply to Phone, FaceTime, Messeges etc. That's for those who talk too much on the phone. That might be a whole different problem.

The great thing about all of these Screen Time features is that they sync across all of your Apple devices signed into iCloud (when Share Across Devices is enabled).

Android: Digital Wellbeing / Digital Balance

Similar to Screen Time on iPhone, Digital Wellbeing or Digital Balance (in the case of Huawei) will let you see your smartphone usage stats and manage your screen time with App limits and Away time.

It’s worth exploring those on your own device. Taking advantage of this feature or even set it up on your children’s smartphones can go a long way, as long as you don’t start bypassing it.

Unconventional addictions call for unconventional solutions


1. Think about switching to a phone with a smaller screen (and a smaller battery)

Now, again - this one might not seem like a direct attempt to tackle the issue, but from personal experience is the single best thing one can do in order to start using their smartphone less. A perfect example for this will be my particular case, which goes like this:

I’ve had the Huawei P30 Pro for about two years now. It’s the absolute best phone I’ve ever owned by a long shot. It takes stunning photos, it’s fast even after two years of use, and it comes with all the bells and whistles that one might want.

Typing on the 6.5-inch display is a joy. I generally find that typing on an Android phone has always been a more seamless experience for me. I don’t know if anyone else can relate, but I type faster and more accurately with fewer typos on an Android phone with a 6-6.5-inch display than an iPhone (even if it has a bigger screen).

However... I figured that I also want (not need!) an iPhone since I’ve always been nosy and wanted to know “what the other OS is doing”. That’s long before I took on tech journalism. My computer is a MacBook, so that’s another good reason - you know AirDrop and stuff...

So, I bought a used iPhone 8 off eBay, which came with lots of scratches on the screen, poor battery life (as expected), and plenty of storage (256GB), which was welcome. I switched my SIM to the iPhone many months ago, and to this day, it hasn’t gone back to the P30 Pro because (now I’ll make a parallel to the things I loved about the Huawei phone):

  • The iPhone took usable but not amazing photos
  • It’s smooth, but not necessarily fast compared to the newer Android flagship
  • Apple’s phone doesn’t have any gimmicks that might be useful in certain scenarios, but normally a distraction
  • It has a small screen, which is usable with one-hand
  • This small screen is really discouraging when you want to type an email or a longer message
  • The iPhone 8 dies after about three hours of active use
  • It takes forever to charge

If this was a 2017 review, such findings would get the iPhone 8 canceled, but at this moment in time and for the purpose of dealing with smartphone dependency, that’s exactly what makes a phone like the iPhone 8 a brilliant tool for dealing with my, or your smartphone addiction.

Unlike some of the studies that are sometimes vague or the general advice that’s often too radical, this is something everyone can do! For the record, I’m not saying everyone should go out and buy the old iPhone 8 or even the iPhone 12 Mini. That’s what worked for me, but for you, this might be another small phone which might sometimes be successfully frustrating to use.

But that’s the idea - you have to want to use your phone less, and trust me - typing on such a small screen is indeed frustrating; the battery life is poor compared to bigger phones, and it discourages you from consuming any type of content - YouTube videos, photo/video editing, or especially watching Netflix or Prime movies. It’s absolutely perfect for those who want to force themselves into using their smartphone less!

Phones like the Huawei P30 Pro, Galaxy S21 Ultra, or iPhone 12 Pro Max would be very capable and practically perfect for things like taking pictures, viewing content, and perhaps even being productive. That’s exactly why you might want to avoid them if you tend to get lost in your phone (not taking shots at any companies or models).

Now, if I want to watch a long YouTube video or a documentary, I turn on the TV. Chromecast is brilliant if your TV isn’t smart. Then, if I want to type a work email, I reach for my MacBook. Tablets are another great smartphone alternative for multimedia consumption, but be careful - you don’t want to transform your smartphone addiction into a tablet addiction.

Also, if you’re worried about being disconnected with no means of reaching anyone you really need (when you really need to)…get a dumbphone to keep with you in case your small smartphone dies.


2. Use the physical items that your smartphone has replaced

How about you buy a small calculator, a pocket calendar, a tiny torch or a compass?

Yes, this might sound negligible, but think about it - how many times do you grab your phone to do something simple like checking the time or see the date, and you end up watching baby videos on YouTube? I bet at least once a day. That’s 365 times a year. And, let’s be honest, it's really much more…

Why not buy a watch (whether it’s smart or traditional); get a fitness tracker; try taking notes on a notepad... You get the point.

3. Get a foldable smartphone (the ones that can become smaller... not bigger)

And in the end, foldable clamshell phones, which are on the rise, literally hide the big and beautiful display that, with traditional phones, is always there to distract you. I have personally explored this topic in more detail in the recent “Why I might ditch my iPhone for a Galaxy Z Flip 3” story.

It also touches on the very interesting topic of productivity, and how your phone can make you less, or more productive, depending on your lifestyle. I encourage you to take a look at it.

Hey, perhaps… not on your phone? Get your laptop instead. It’s a long piece…

That’s what she…

Have you ever considered you might be addicted to your phone? Please, feel free to share some further insight in the comment section.

Yes, I have.
53.13%
On occasion. Perhaps when I don't have things to do, and I'm alone.
25%
No. I know when to stop.
21.88%

Would you say any member of your family or friends circle has a smartphone dependency?

Unfortunately, yes. More than one family member/friend.
68.33%
I'm not sure. They are usually quite "present" when we hang out.
21.67%
Luckily, no.
10%

Did you think the advice from the "Unconventional addictions call for unconventional solutions" section has potential, and could be useful?

Yes! I see why having a phone with a smaller screen (and battery) might actually encourage you to use it less; the foldable phone is also a good idea; and getting a pocket calendar doesn't sound crazy!
41.07%
I don't know. I think it wouldn't make a huge difference for me. I don't have a laptop, or a tablet to use instead.
21.43%
Not really. But who knows - it might work for some.
37.5%

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