Smartphone addiction is a societal issue, it’s not age-specific

PUBLISHED: 12:59 29 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:52 01 December 2019

Steven Downes says we should stop getting anxious about smartphones causing anxiety          Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Steven Downes says we should stop getting anxious about smartphones causing anxiety Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto


Every day at work, I read or receive a few downright obvious press releases about survey results.

Smartphones are addictive for all ages - but so what, says Steven Downes?     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphotosSmartphones are addictive for all ages - but so what, says Steven Downes? Photo: Getty Images/iStockphotos

Today's "you don't say?" comes from King's College London, which really ought to be punching at a greater intellectual weight than Posie and Pixie PR.

Mega-brained boffins from Britain's 7th best university (according to the Times Higher) have discovered that almost one-quarter of young people are so dependent on their smartphones that it is like an addiction.

They could have saved themselves a lot of time and effort by commissioning me to do the work: I'd have knocked out a 50-word report in about one minute, succinctly stating the obvious.

In fact, I'd have gone further. For the 23pc figure they arrived at is far, far short of the reality - that pretty much every young person is addicted to their smartphone.

What makes me angry is not how obvious the results are, but how - yet again - the finger is being pointed at young people.

Yes, many young people spend a hell of a lot of time on their phones: texting, on WhatsApp, on Instagram, taking selfies, shopping, etc. But so do millions of adults of all ages.

It's not an age thing, it's a thing.

If I lost my iPhone, I'd probably become extremely anxious and stressed, shaking and sweating like a good un. The same would happen to one of my grown-up children if they lost their smartphone.

Tellingly, for all those older people among us who like to look down their noses at young people, I'd wager that my Mum and Dad would also feel bereft if they couldn't find their phone.

You see, smartphone addiction is a societal issue, not age-specific.

When I get on the bus, at least half of the passengers are staring at a small screen - from toddlers whose parents use phones as a soother, through to people in their 80s.

It is probably the one modern addiction that knows no boundaries of age or social strata.

It's not a big deal though, is it?

There's so much hand-wringing about how smartphone addiction is causing mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

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I prefer to focus on the benefits of smartphones, which are a remarkable resource.

I use mine to: keep in close contact with friends and family all over the world; play games to take my mind off things; listen to podcasts that educate, entertain and amuse me; monitor my emails; write shopping lists; take and store photos; listen to music; book train tickets and hotels; tweet; watch streaming channels; organise my daily diary.

All of these benefits come in something that fits in my pocket.

Yes, I get a bit twitchy if I don't have my phone with me (I've recently started leaving it at home for hours at a time, to test myself). But I'd be a damned sight more agitated if I had to do all of the above things separately, as we did before smartphones.

People love to focus on the negatives of modern life. It has always been thus.

When I was growing up, adults were certain that we were being ruined by too much TV or too much time on the ZX Spectrum. My parents' generation were certain to be corrupted by rock and roll music. For the last 20 years, violent video games have been turning our young people into aggressive sociopaths, apparently.

And yet most people are nice, kind, gentle, thoughtful, rounded human beings.

Societal anxiety about the effects of smartphones is greater than the impact of using them.

The worst thing that will happen to anyone who is glued to their smartphone is that they will walk into a lamppost. But they'd still have Angry Birds and Spotify, so who cares?

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