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Smartphone Addiction Can Be Detrimental to Relationships

via (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
An example of a phonestack

Are you addicted to your smartphone? Do you find yourself constantly checking for texts and emails? One researcher has found that smartphone use negatively impacts relationships and that smartphone addiction plays a significant role in our lives. 


I’m really trying to finish writing this story, but my phone keeps buzzing, and I keep checking it.  

Like a lot of other Americans, I can’t live with it, and I can’t live without it. The truth is, smartphones keep us distracted, especially as they continue to become increasingly popular and omnipresent. Baylor professor, James Roberts, conducts research on how smartphones impact users’ lives and relationships.

"That’s the you know, if we’re on Sesame Street, the kind of the word for the day, is ‘distraction.’ When we’re on our smartphones, we’re distracted," Roberts said. "You know, from the world around—from the people across the table from us, the world around us to anything we should be focusing on. So that’s the real—really where smartphones do their worst is when they distract us from what we should be doing."

Today’s college students, especially, feel the impact of smart phone distraction. According to the Pew Research Center, 85% of college aged people own a smartphone. They’re using them to check emails, look up the nearest taco joint, keep up with friends, and organize schoolwork. The problem is they often find that their smartphones make them less attentive to friends and less focused when they study. Roberts uses the portmanteau, phubbing, that’s phone snubbing, to describe the way we sometimes pay more attention to our phones than to the people around us.

Outside on Baylor’s campus, by the new Rosenbalm Fountain, sophomore, sophomore AshtynDeWalt, says phones can be detrimental. 

“I’d like to say that whenever I’m with people I try not to use it that much, but then at the same time if we’re just, like, chilling, we’re like all on our phones, and it’s kind of awkward and sucks," DeWalt says.

Not only do phones distract us from our friends, but they also distract us from our work. Caleb Byrd, a senior, explains how he deals with his cell phone when he does homework:

“I tend to try to not use my phone while studying," Byrd says, "but I need to try to start putting my phone on airplane mode. I tend to check it pretty often. Especially if the topic’s boring.”

Cell phones affect how students study and interact with one another, and they even affect classroom dynamics. Roberts describes the changes he’s seen in his classroom since the advent of cell phones. He says that ten years ago he struggled to get students to quit talking to their classmates and go back to their seats before class began.

“Well, fast-forward ten, fifteen years now, I come into the classroom to a very different picture," Roberts says. "It’s usually dead silent everybody, even people sitting right next to each other, absorbed on their phones there’s not a word being spoken, and again, my most difficult task at that time is to say, okay, phones down or, you know, power down, and let’s talk.” 

Roberts attributes the significant impact of smartphones to behavioral addiction. He says that people who are addicted to their smartphones demonstrate the same behaviors as people with a substance addiction. Their smartphones are a constant presence in their lives, dictate their moods, and user’s consistently increase their cell phone usage over time. He also noted in his research that many people exhibit withdrawal symptoms. They are stressed when they are separated from their phones. Other symptoms include conflict and relapse. The smartphone negatively impacts addicted users’ relationships, but when the addicted users try to cut back or quit using their smartphones, they can’t. 

“People ask me, you know, why do people text and drive. Why do people talk in drive, or why do people use their smartphones when they’re with people they love—their parents, the rest of their family, their spouses?My simple answer to that is we—not only do we like or love our smartphones, but we’re addicted to our smartphones," Roberts says.

So what are addicted college students and other addicted smartphone users to do?

Shelby Velasquez, a sophomore, says that when she and her friends hang out, they put their phones in the middle of the table. Sometimes people call this a phone stack. The first one to touch their phone has to pay a fine. That’s one fun strategy. Overall, Roberts suggests cutting back slowly. You should designate cell-phone free zones, like cars and bedrooms, and you should be aware of and strategically limit the amount of time you spend on different apps.

Avery was an intern with KWBU from 2015-2016. She graduated from Baylor University, where she studied philosophy and creative writing. She will intern with Here & Now at NPR in Washington D.C during the Summer of 2016.