Scientists have highlighted four ‘triggers’ which force people to ‘compulsively’ check their smartphones.
A team from the University of Washington carried out interviews with ordinary people across a variety of age groups to discover which situations made them most likely to vacuously gawp at their phone.
The uni said many of us now know about the feeling of being ‘sucked into a black hole’ of staring at apps, but offered several tips on how to escape from the event horizon of modern communications technology.
Firstly, we need to realise that some interactions with phones are meaningful, whilst others are a waste of time.
‘For a couple of years I’ve been looking at people’s experiences with smartphones and listening to them talk about their frustration with the way they engage with their phones,’ said co-author Alexis Hiniker, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Information School.
‘When we ask people what they find meaningful about their phone use, nobody says: “Oh, nothing.”
‘Everyone can point to experiences with their phone that have personal and persistent meaning.
‘That is very motivating for me. The solution is not to get rid of this technology; it provides enormous value. So the question is: How do we support that value without bringing along all the baggage?’
Hiniker and her team interviewed three groups of smartphone users: high school students, college students and adults who have graduated from college.
All of the 39 subjects were aged between 14 and 64.
The team found four triggers which made people use their smartphones, which you can see in the box below.
The situations in which people look at their phones
These triggers turned out to be the same across age groups.
‘This doesn’t mean that teens use their phones the same way adults do,’ Hiniker added.
‘But I think this compulsive itch to turn back to your phone plays out the same way across all these groups.
‘People talked about everything in the same terms.
‘The high school students would say: “Anytime I have a dead moment, if I have one minute between classes I pull out my phone.”
‘And the adults would say: “Anytime I have one dead moment, if I have one minute between seeing patients at work I pull out my phone.”‘
The researchers also set out ways of making sure phones don’t suck up too much time and asked participants to identify something about their behaviour they would like to change and draw an idea about how the phone could help them achieve it.
‘Many of the participants sketched ‘lockout’ mechanisms, where the phone would essentially prevent them from using it for a certain period of time,’ said Jonathan Tran, an undergraduate student who worked on the study.
‘But participants mentioned how although they feel bad about their behaviour, they didn’t really feel bad enough to utilize their sketched solutions. There was some ambivalence.’
The best way to tackle smartphone addiction is to become more aware of why you use the phone, the researchers said.
Work out which experiences each app give you and then focus on only meaningful usages, such as connecting with real friends or family members.
You could also monitor your usage using functions like Apple’s Screen Time, which should allow you to pinpoint which apps are wasting your attention.
‘People have a pretty good sense of what matters to them.’ Hiniker added.
‘They can try to tailor what’s on their phone to support the things that they find meaningful.’
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