Phone Addiction

Deloitte’s regular survey of consumer use of mobile phones hit the headlines yesterday. As usual with such subjects, I got pulled in to comment on a few radio shows. The headline-grabber? Phone addiction. Just how much we use phones before and after sleep, and even in the middle of the night. The assumption — as usual with technology-based changes in behaviour — was that this was ‘a bad thing’.

To some extent, it is. Gym routines, yoga styles and diet fads seem to be frequent topics of discussion, even in the most unlikely places. I have vivid memories of watching a group of 40–50-something technology executives bond over the South Beach diet having failed to find any other common ground. Yet sleep has had much less attention, long neglected as a component of a healthy modern lifestyle.

There seems to have been a feeling, particularly in tech circles that you can ‘sleep when you’re dead’. You’re wasting time if you’re sleeping. Yet for mind and body, we know that sleep is vital. Perhaps it is my age (18 months from a rather large milestone) but I find I am increasingly conscious of my health. The mobile phone is a potential source of much disruption. It is the vehicle for many of the interruptions inherent in modern life and the encroachment of work into the home. Just looking at the screen’s blue-tinged light can screw up your body’s understanding of night and day.

But to make a judgement about how bad it is, we have to look behind the numbers a little. The largest group checking their phone in the night were checking the time. People disturbed by checking their clocks in the middle of the night may have been headline-worthy a hundred years ago but not today. The 3–4% checking messages, mails and social alerts in the middle of the night may be suffering true phone addiction. They may need to change their behaviour if they want a good night’s sleep, but this behaviour is skewed towards the young. They perhaps don’t need as much beauty sleep.

Those checking their phones last thing at night or first thing in the morning? If they’re anything like me it’s about knowing what tomorrow holds. Has that meeting been cancelled? Where do I have to be and when? What time train do I need to get? Knowing the answer to these things helps rather than hinders my sleep.

This isn’t phone addiction. It’s the acceptance of a valuable augmentation.

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Tom Cheesewright