Although smartphone and social media addiction aren't included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, studies conducted over the last few months might suggest it probably should be.
In August, mobile market researcher BankMyCell found that US residents spend about four hours on smartphones per day. That's an hour longer than that global average.
A report released in May by smartphone insurance company Asurion said that Americans can't seem to put their devices down, even on vacation. The company reported that the average American checks their phone once every 12 minutes.
We scratch our heads, unsure of how we reached this point of dependence, but seasoned app developer Peter Mezyk explained to Business Insider what that's not difficult to understand. Earlier this year, former Facebook and Google employees joined forces to fight the toxic effects of the apps they helped create.
All of these developers have explained that we're addicted to social media and smartphones because they were designed to be addicting.
"The success of an app is often measured by the extent to which it introduces a new habit," Mezyk said. "Three criteria are required to form a habit: sufficient motivation, an action, and a trigger."
The approach is based on the Fogg Behavior Model, developed by Stanford's Dr. BJ Fogg. According to Fogg, to perform a behavior a person must have the motivation, the ability, and the prompt to do so all at once. When a behavior doesn't occur, it means one of the elements is missing.
Mezyk equates attention to currency. The more time we spend on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, the more advertising revenue the companies earn.
The root of the addiction
When it comes to apps and social media platforms, the habit forms less around what we see, and more around the anticipation of what we could potentially experience when we check our smartphones or open an app.
The motivation element comes when the smartphone vibrates. You might feel a spark of excitement. Did someone like your photo? Do you have a new message or follower?
In fact, we're so fixated on our devices that we feel them buzz or hear them ring when they're not. About 90 percent of smartphone users have experienced Phantom Vibration Syndrome, according to findings from Dr. Robert Rosenberger at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The trigger, or prompt, is closely related to the motivational factor. When our screen lights up, our device rings, or we get an alert of some kind, it's easy to check and see what caused it.
Why aren't we addicted to every app?
Mezyk isn't alone in his suspicions. Former Apple, Google, and Facebook employees have all said that tech companies build their apps around these principles.
Mezyk said there are two types of apps: Supplement and Painkiller apps. Supplement apps are programs we use to make our lives easier, like navigation, banking, or translation apps. We don't get addicted to these apps because they quickly fulfill their purpose.
Painkiller apps, however, don't satisfy a need we can pinpoint, according to Mezyk. Social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter fit this profile.
"They typically generate a stimulus, which usually revolves around negative emotions such as loneliness or boredom," he told Business Insider.
The digital wellness trend
But if we consider what the addiction studies report and what the app developers have brought to light, it doesn't make sense for these companies to want you to use their apps less. Their screen tracking efforts, while helpful to some users, are largely a defensive move to help them deflect criticism about the negative effects of their products.
While it's possible that the digital detox tools appearing in our apps and devices are in the best interest of the user, we could also view what these companies are doing as giving users the illusion of wellbeing while continuously added new features to keep them coming back.
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- We're addicted to smartphones and apps because companies design them that way, according to seasoned app developers.
- We become addicted through elements of motivation, ability, and prompt occurring at the same time.
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- Over half of US teens have decided to limit their smartphone and social media use
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- Your kids hate your smartphone addiction (CNET)
- Apple, Google have similar phone addiction approaches with iOS, Android (ZDNet)
- Here's the true cost of social media (TechRepublic)