Humans are addicted to continuous social interaction, and not to their smartphone devices, a study of dysfunctional use of smart technology has found. The findings, published in Frontiers in Psychology, suggest that smartphone addiction could be hyper-social, not anti-social.
“There is a lot of panic surrounding this topic. We’re trying to offer some good news and show that it is our desire for human interaction that is addictive – and there are fairly simple solutions to deal with this,” said Samuel Veissiere, from McGill University in Canada.
We all know people who, seemingly incapable of living without the bright screen of their phone for more than a few minutes, are constantly texting and checking out what friends are up to on social media.
These are examples of what many consider to be the antisocial behaviour brought on by smartphone addiction, a phenomenon that has garnered media attention in the past few months and led investors and consumers to demand that tech giants address this problem.
Veissiere said that the desire to watch and monitor others – but also to be seen and monitored by others – runs deep in our evolutionary past. Humans evolved to be a uniquely social species and require constant input from others to seek a guide for culturally appropriate behaviour. This is also a way for them to find meaning, goals, and a sense of identity.
Researchers reviewed current literature on dysfunctional use of smart technology through an evolutionary lens. They found that the most addictive smartphone functions all shared a common theme: they tap into the human desire to connect with other people.
While smartphones harness a normal and healthy need for sociality, Veissiere agrees that the pace and scale of hyper-connectivity pushes the brain’s reward system to run on overdrive, which can lead to unhealthy addictions.
Turning off push notifications and setting up appropriate times to check your phone can go a long way to regain control over smartphone addiction. Research suggests that workplace policies “that prohibit evening and weekend emails” are also important.
“Rather than start regulating the tech companies or the use of these devices, we need to start having a conversation about the appropriate way to use smartphones,” said Veissiere. “Parents and teachers need to be made aware of how important this is,” he said.