Help Desk

Is it phone addiction or just the modern way to consume information?

Help Desk

:( Help!

I'm addicted to my phone. I know it's a cliche to say that, but lately I'm frightened by how true it is. I recently tried to go cold turkey and turn off my wi-fi and 4G for a week. After a few days, I actually started to get physically sick. I can't prove that it's related, but come on. I recovered, in part, by spending two straight days curled up on the couch with Netflix on the TV and Facebook in the palm of my hand.

We all joke about our phones being like crack and heroin. Seriously, how worried should I be?

– Helplessly Addicted to Browsing and Information Technology


This is a complicated question, HABIT, and we're not addiction scientists. But we do know that research is out there – and readily available online, if you dare to click – demonstrating that Internet addiction can indeed share psychological and neural mechanisms with drug addiction. Problematic Internet use can alter neural pathways and make your brain's next dose of dopamine dependent on your next online bender. The Internet trains us to click by conditioning us to the "reward" of a new screen. If you go cold turkey, the lack of dopamine reward could make you cranky, depressed, or even sick.

How dangerous is this to your life, relationships, and well-being? It may depend on your personality. If you're the kind of person who can have a few drinks and then not touch the stuff for the next week, hopefully you can do the same with Wikipedia and Perez Hilton. On the contrary, if you have a hard time reining in your bad habits, you should probably exercise the same wariness with your phone that you do with addictive substances. As with alcohol, your greatest risk for ruining lives (your own and others') is to mix your addiction with driving. Putting the phone away while driving should be an absolute baseline for managing your addiction.

You probably already know about Freedom, the granddaddy of Internet-blocking apps. Unfortunately, it has not been translated to mobile, and savvy users will probably be able to find a way around the blocking apps currently on the market. (Hint: It starts with "uninstall.") A better bet may be to create a new system of rewards to begin to change the relationship in your brain between dopamine and phone use.

An app called BreakFree aims to do just that. It tracks your phone usage, including use of each individual app, and gives you an "addiction score" for each day, week, and month. You can earn achievements for unlocking your screen less than 40 times a day, or for averaging less than 40 unlocks per week, and share those achievements on social media. The app also features built-in tools to block incoming phone calls, disable the Internet, or alert you when a phone bender exceeds 10 minutes.

We can appreciate the contradiction inherent in fighting phone addiction with an app. But if going cold turkey isn't working for you, HABIT, it's at least worth a click. :) HD

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Help Desk, social media etiquette, internet addiction, Freedom, BreakFree

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