Addicted to your cell phone?

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published November 4, 2011

Cell phones play such an important part in our lives, especially here in Israel where it can be essential to be in touch with our loved ones should G-d forbid, anything occur. But what happens when the cell phone actually keeps us from being in touch with the very people we love the most, when our cell phones control us and we no longer "freely" determine how we use our time? Sadly, as technology continues to improve, and the whole world seems to now be within our reach at the touch of a button, we have lost the fine art of communicating with a dramatic impact on our relationships. Vast numbers of children and adults have become addicted to their cell phones – at the expense of school, work and perhaps most importantly, interpersonal contact with those who we care most about.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against technology. I recognize that it has enhanced our lives and made them easier. That said, too much of a good thing is ultimately dangerous, whether we want to admit it or not. While I proudly confess that I am still not yet on Facebook, I recognize that it is increasingly more difficult to be "in the know" professionally and otherwise when the rest of the world sees social networking as the main forum for exchanging information. While email already eats up close to an hour a day, Facebook could literally destroy my deeply precious relationships with my family. Let's face it, in spite of promises to be befriended by hundreds, time spent in "techno-land", must be at the expense of something else.

While my readers know that I have spoken before on internet addiction and cell phone etiquette, as we turn to fourth generation phones, there really is little that one can't do and sadly, for many, being electronically entertained has become a major form of play – oftentimes solitary, but always at the expense of actively "chatting" face to face with a loved one. Is it really acceptable and healthy to constantly send and receive messages and be emotionally unavailable when real time in-person communication suffers? With skyrocketing obesity rates, decreased social skills, and increased marital dissatisfaction, is this really what you want for yourself and your family?

While there may be many concerns about radiation, a far more serious issue is the psychological and social damage incurred from such an intrusive and therefore potentially unhealthy technology. While our values are eroding, we are sadly oblivious because the thrill of playing one more game, posting one more picture or update, or checking out one more piece of information has permeated every aspect of daily living.

So, are you or your loved one addicted? Take this little test and if you fail, ask yourself now, before it is too late, if this lack of availability is how you want to be experienced by your loved ones.

Do you find yourself spending increasingly more time on your phone, downloading one more app, or mindlessly wanting to play on your phone if you are bored? Are you excited when you can play and find you never have enough time to just explore all that your phone does? Are you stressed out, restless, or depressed when you inadvertently forget your phone at home? Do you feel irritable and anxious when you can't be on your phone? Does the phone keep you from being available to your loved ones? Are you annoyed when others point out that you are on your phone? Do you lie or are you secretive regarding phone usage? Do you ever say "this will just take a minute" as you check something? Has the phone caused a fight? Has the phone interfered with your sleep? Do you stay up to "talk", get woken up by messages or have intrusive thoughts about the phone or programs you have downloaded? Do you have trouble concentrating, staying focused or have periods of time that you can't account for? Do you lose track of time when on your phone? Have you endangered yourself or others because you have been on your phone when you should have been attending to something else, like driving perhaps? If you have five minutes to spare, do you prefer to "play" on your phone rather than speak with a friend or family member? Have others spoken to you and you simply "don't hear" because you are in techno-land? Are you aware of the additional "noise" that the phone causes in your day? Have you neglected work, school, your family, and your personal needs because you just have to do "one more thing" on the phone? Do you hear the phone when it isn't ringing, check it to see why you haven't been contacted and feel increasingly stressed the longer you've been "out of touch"? Do you talk or play on your phone when you are in the company of others and continuously justify doing so?

When you are honest with yourself, you know if you have a phone addiction problem. Acknowledge it out loud and decide if you want to work on it. If you choose not to, recognize that your productivity, relationships and general health will suffer. If you do want to do something, start slowly. Try a meal, a movie, an evening with the family, 11pm to 7pm and even Shabbat with your phone turned off. Be fully present and keep your phone in another room. Try not speaking on your phone when you are with others in person. Go for a walk with a friend, play a game with your children or reintroduce yourself to your partner. I promise, with time, you might just discover that you've started to de-stress your life and actually feel healthier. With all due respect to Steve Jobs, it's time to move from an I-world to the We-world we are meant to have.