We’re so obsessed with our phones, we emotionally connect to them

Here’s a chilling thought: We are so physically and mentally connected to our phones that sometimes we think they’ve gone off, even when nothing’s actually happened.

A 2017 study published in Computers in Human Behavior 70 found evidence that “phantom cell phone experiences are related to psychological dependency on cell phone communications.”

The study is based on 766 undergraduate college students who attend a “large public university in the Midwestern USA.” It’s easy to see how it applies to all of us, however.

It’s not your phone, it’s actually you

Phantom vibrations from your phone are evidence of how it controls you: with intermittent rewards.

Getting a text feels good. There’s nothing like seeing your phone light up, knowing that someone could potentially be reaching out to check in on you, making plans for this weekend (or maybe even tonight). Turns out, there’s a reason why.

The American Marketing Association referenced a study by media-buying firm RadiumOne, which said that using social media triggers the release of dopamine…big time. In other words, we get happy. 

The study reportedly said that “every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation,” and that “we feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.”

Here’s the bad news: that intermittent hit of expectation from some digital interactions is how addictions are formed.

In an article on The ConversationDaniel J. Kruger,  a co-author on the 2017 study, pointed out that although “excessive use of cellphones or other technology” was not actually included in the most recent version of  the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s text on classifying and identifying mental disorders, the underlying trend is certainly similar to an addiction.

“One of the features of addictions is that people become hypersensitive to cues related to the rewards they are craving. Whatever it is, they start to see it everywhere. (I had a college roommate who once thought that he saw a bee’s nest made out of cigarette butts hanging from the ceiling),” Kruger wrote.


Our phones are never that far away

The sky is the limit for this kind of addiction. We’re able to do just about anything on our phones these days, so why wouldn’t we use them all the time?

A 2015 Pew Research Center report said that 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the last year to learn more “about a health condition,” 57% for “online banking,” “44% for “real estate listings or other information about a place to live,” 30% “to take a class or get educational content,” and 18% “to submit a job application,” among other things, according to a Pew survey of American trends.

No wonder around 44% of people with smartphones have had problems getting something done because their phone was elsewhere, according to the 2015 report, based on a survey of American trends.

The two-phone work trend

It’s also not uncommon for us to need two phones: one for work, and one for personal use, as a security measure. Mixing personal and business communications on the same phone can become a problem since your workplace can demand their property back — which includes all the work-related communications you’ve ever made.

Even one phone will make professionals hyperconnected to their jobs.

A 2015 white paper by the Center for Creative Leadership said that a 2012 survey of 483 executives, managers and professionals found that 60% “of those who use smartphones for work are connected to work 13.5 or more hours a day, five days a week, and spend about five hours on weekends scanning e-mails, for a total of about 72 hours a week connected to work.”

That’s a lot of power for a little phone. Perhaps set some time aside to disconnect and regain control over your life.