Addicted to your smartphone? This app developer explains why

text message saves lives smartphone crowd
It’s no longer hyperbole to refer to our relationships with our smartphones as addictive. For many of us, it’s the first thing we check in the morning and the last thing we interact with at night. Our cellphones are our friends, teachers, and even lifelines, and sometimes it seems our dependency on these devices will only keep growing.

“(We’re like) a rat gorging on sugary foods well past satiety,” explained Raefer Gabriel, the CEO of smartphone app builder Delvv.

Our dependence arises as a growing pattern of behavior that ultimately takes on a life of its own, he believes. We begin down a slippery slope as we start using our phones to “feed that anticipation and desire for information, particularly unpredictable information,” stoking our brain’s dopamine center.

Sounds a lot like how addictions form, doesn’t it?

Digital Trends recently sat down with Gabriel to discuss how smartphone addiction could be affecting both productivity and our overall quality of life. The heart of the problem, he said: As we continue to look for more and more information, more often than not we look for it in our phones and within mobile apps.

“A major change in the last two or three years,” he says, “has been the increased use of adaptive, personalized feeds in social media” that give us “more incentive to over-consume.” After all, Facebook has to keep you coming back somehow, right? And all of this, Gabriel says, “feeds back into that dopamine loop and reinforces addictive behavior patterns.”

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this addiction is its biological basis — unlike alcohol or drug addictions, which are predicated upon a chemical effect, we’ve managed to train ourselves to release dopamine by seeking and obtaining bits of information. Indeed, Gabriel says, our dependence upon smartphones can be compared to a gambling or sex addiction.

And because our addiction is a biological pattern, it may be hard to break.

“Interrupt the feedback loop and you’ll see withdrawal symptoms.”

“Humans haven’t really changed,” Gabriel told me. “Our minds are very adaptable, to be sure, but we didn’t evolve in any sort of situations that would prepare us for this constant flow of information. When you interrupt the dopamine feedback loop of any sort of pleasure-seeking behavior, you’ll see withdrawal symptoms — and people definitely look anxious and moody when you take away their constant smartphone connectivity.”

Not everyone is equally affected by smartphone addiction, nor are all apps created equal when it comes to enabling this behavior. “Millennials are most strongly tied to their smartphones and purport to be less affected by information overload compared to older generations who were not born into the mobile era,” said Gabriel.

As to whether smartphone addiction is actually making us less happy, Gabriel admits that there isn’t quite enough evidence to give a satisfactory answer quite yet, but he doubts that our phones are making us happier. “While up to a point, ease of information access makes us more productive and able to get more done in our lives, the extra leisure time is scarcely valuable if we use it all up surfing Facebook and engaging in other pleasure-seeking behaviors,” he said. “There’s clearly a difference between pleasure in the moment vs. true happiness in life.”

So what’s to be done? What does the ideal situation look like in the CEO’s eyes? “Efficient smartphone use would entail getting to the optimal amount of ‘digital connectedness’ and minimizing use of your phone as a coping device,” Gabriel said. “We think that in a few years time the constant stream of interruptions and cues driving our pleasure-seeking behavior will eventually come to be seen as rude, crass, and passe,” if it doesn’t already.

“We clearly need better tools for managing interruptions and prioritizing important information. Hopefully the major mobile platforms will take more initiative in this direction.”

But ultimately, Gabriel concluded, “as with any pleasure-seeking behavior, people need to see a downside — they need to want to change. For some people, they may just need to understand better how much of their time they are losing to consumption of ‘junk food’ information. For others, we need clear, forceful evidence — a better understanding of the negative effects of information overindulgence on the brain and pleasure centers.”

It may take some time and a whole lot of education, but maybe one day, we’ll start weaning ourselves off of our cellphones.

Mobile

Why Honor’s new screen is the hole-y grail in quest to ditch the notch

Honor will release a smartphone with an in-screen camera in the new year, a trend which is gathering momentum in the industry. Honor said it has cracked the formula, and explains what's special about its All-View Display.
Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
Mobile

Doubts emerge over when LG will reveal its folding smartphone

LG may be working on a folding smartphone, making it the latest device manufacturer to be linked to the technology, which may become one of the standout designs of the coming year.
Mobile

Quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed

Looking for a few accoutrements to make your smartphone even better? If you, or someone you know, is a sucker for accessories, you'll want to check out our collection of quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed.
Smart Home

These activists are hacking housing problems in NYC using apps and data

There are 1.2 million people living in "deficient" housing in New York City and now these coders are making easy-to-use, intuitive apps designed to give tenants a fighting chance against unscrupulous landlords.
Mobile

Google Assistant will alert you if it thinks your flight will be delayed

Google Assistant will soon be able to alert you if your flight is delayed. Using historical flight status data and machine learning, the service can even predict a flight delay before it's been officially confirmed.
Mobile

Forget 3 being a crowd, 4 is the magic number on the Huawei P30 Pro

Huawei's sequel to the P20 Pro, the P30 Pro, has already started to leak ahead of its 2019 announcement and release. The company is likely to improve even further on the P20 Pro's excellent camera.
Deals

Here are 19 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great stocking stuffer ideas), we've rounded up 19 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth…
Mobile

How to use Samsung’s Bixby assistant for all of your smartphone tasks

Samsung Bixby is a powerful tool, but not the most intuitive one we've encountered. Here's how to set up and use every feature of Samsung's digital assistant, as well as what to expect in the future.
Mobile

Declutter your life with our favorite wireless chargers for Android and iPhones

We checked out the best wireless phone chargers to make tangles and uncooperative ports a thing of the past. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, find out which wireless charging pads are worth buying, and how their features compare.
Mobile

Microsoft patent filing shows wearable that mitigates involuntary movements

A patent application from Microsoft has shown the company is looking into using wearable technology to alleviate symptoms from various diseases and disorders that cause involuntary movements.
Mobile

AT&T makes 5G a reality for a dozen U.S. cities, with more to come in 2019

Ready to experience a radical transformation in mobile communication? AT&T is launching mobile 5G in cities across the country over the next few months. Here's everything you need to know about the AT&T 5G rollout.
Mobile

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Product Review

With sapphire glass and analog dials, you'd never know this watch is smart

The world of hybrid smartwatches is getting much larger, and the latest comes from a name with history — New York Standard Watches. In our NYSW GTS Activity Tracker review, we find out what makes this watch special, and why we were so…