Curbing excessive digital consumption

Smartphones designed to be addictive

07 March 2022 - 08:31
By Nombuso Kumalo
Tech guru Arthur Goldstuck has warned about the danger of recording material on smartphones you would rather not want made public.
Image: Tech guru Arthur Goldstuck has warned about the danger of recording material on smartphones you would rather not want made public.

South Africans are glued to their screens – literally, accounting for the highest time spent on the internet globally with an average of 11 minutes daily.

This is according to the GWI and We Are Social Digital 2022 Global Overview Report. Their data unveiled the global average daily time spent using the internet is 6 hours and 58 minutes, with 92% of global users accessing the internet via their mobile phones. 

Dr Lesego Ndhlovu.
Image: Supplied Dr Lesego Ndhlovu.

“Smartphones grant us access to unlimited access to information and people, however there is a fine line between healthy and obsessive mobile phone use, says counselling psychologist Dr Lesego Ndhlovu, who shares that smartphones were designed to be addictive and to keep the user engaged.

“The sophisticated design of cellphones is such that they are made to increasingly make one reliant on them,” says Dr Ndhlovu.

“Although the addiction to mobile phones is not yet listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), it can be considered a behavioural addiction, similar to addictions such as gambling and shopping, which have the potential to cause mild to severe impairments in a person’s life,” says Ndhlovu.

According to Neera Bhikha, a neurophysiologist at the Sandton Medi Clinic, our addiction to our cellphones and the internet has negative effects on our lives as it fuels unnecessary anxiety and stress.  

“Nomophobia is the fear of being without your mobile phone and it results in a variety of impulse control problems such as virtual relationships, social media, dating applications and messaging, which are not healthy substitutes for real life interactions,” says Bhikha

Excessive digital consumption in children

Alarmingly, children have become increasingly dependent on technology, and according to Dr Ndhlovu, this is learned behaviour.

“Children have learned to become dependent on technology at a much younger age than ever before and unfortunately the pandemic did not help the situation, with students having to resort to online schooling. 

"Unlike adults, children are a lot more impressionable and dependent to technological gadgets, which makes them more vulnerable to the adverse impact on their concentration span, impulse control and self-esteem,” says Ndhlovu

Neera Bhikha.
Image: 123RF Neera Bhikha.

A tell-tale sign of a cellphone addict is their poor sleep hygiene. Bhikha says that sleep disruptions have serious impact on our overall mental health leading to mental health issues for both children and adults. “About 68% of mobile phone addicts have poor quality sleep and most addicts suffer from insomnia, says Bhikha.

“Sleep deprivation can result in mood swings, poor learning and learning skills and memory lapses.

“Sleep disturbances can be associated with the increased likelihood of developing sleep disorders and fatigue in adults and children. It also reduces sleep quality as the light of the phone at night keeps the brain active,” says Ndhlovu

“Our sleep health is mostly impacted due the emissions of blue light from our devices, and this has an adverse impact on both adults and children,” says Bhikha

“Excessive digital consumption can be seen in children as they may also display symptoms of nomophobia and the affected areas of cognitive development include decision making, impulse control, concentration as well as emotional regulation,” says Dr Ndhlovu.

According to Dr Ndlovu, these are the signs of addiction to cellphone use. There is no specific amount of time or frequency, but the accumulation of the signs below may be an indicator of a potential problem:

  • The impulse to always check it without any prompting
  • Persistent failed efforts to use a cellphone less often
  • Turning to it when experiencing discomfort (in social settings when feeling awkward or bored) or when feeling anxious or depressed
  • Excessive use such that one loses a sense of time
  • Impact on relationships or jobs due to excessive use
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the phone or network is inaccessible (anger, tension, depression, irritability, restlessness)
  • Getting up during the night to check a phone
  • Anxiety when phone battery is low.
  • Panic when phone is misplaced
  • Uses the phone in dangerous situations (i.e. while driving)
  • Phone placed on the table during meals