What is phone addiction really?
Phone usage and addiction is on everyone’s mind. And a lot of us are concerned that we are using our phones too much. But what is phone addiction really? Is it fulfilling a different role in different people? Maybe labelling it an addiction loses the nuances of what it means to continually want to reach for our phones as soon as our life pauses, even if it is just the few seconds at the traffic lights. A pause in our lives often sees us reaching for our phones.
The phone is a tool, a multipurpose validation and distraction tool. A like is no longer simply a like but carries with it the validation that we all yearn for. The validation of our worth. Each like, comment and text become validations of our worth. We use it to distract ourselves from pain, the pain may be simply the boredom of the mundane, and sometimes the pain of loneliness and sometimes more profound pain which feels like a black void that we hope to fill by reaching for our phones.
We are not really addicted to a communication device. We are attached to its power for taking us away from being present with the good and the bad. Taking us away from being and instead into a busy doing mode which is so typical of our lives now. Because as we are doing we are busy, and taken away from the suffering of being human. The essential questions that we are all seeking to answer are; am I whole? am I worthy? do I matter? We seem to search for the answers to these fundamental questions with our phones. We are essentially looking to be seen, heard and know that we matter but looking in the wrong place.
What initially begins as a multipurpose validation tool, can really start to hijack our brains and influence our brain’s reward systems and chemistry. A like or a text becomes a reward which releases dopamine. Dopamine strengthens the connections between behaviour and reward, driving us to look at the phone again and get rewarded. The reward is essentially the hit of dopamine in our brains. This loop stimulus- reward- dopamine is further strengthened and ingrained; this creates a chemical addiction in our brains which is very hard to break. The dopamine hit and validation/distraction tool is a very powerful combination.
What can we do instead? We can pause. Pause when we want to reach for our phones. We can become aware of how we are feeling. We can silently say to our ourselves the personal affirmation we need in that moment. We need remember that feeling the pain also means that we feel the joy and just allowing the feelings to be gives us freedom from them. It is so powerful to have moments of stillness in our day, to allow the pause to become pockets of quiet and we can invite those moments by pausing instead of reaching for our phones. Boredom can be precious time where ideas blossom. It is a process and a practice.