Why Your Smartphone Problem is a Relationship Problem

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Have you ever left your smartphone behind by mistake? It is a dreadful feeling. Why do we feel naked without your smartphone?

Your smartphone is more of a companion to your daily adventures and your dreams, than a block of metal. As your smartphone accompanies you to your lunch meetings with old friends and to your bed side, they increasingly reign over you by exploiting your human need for attention.

To paint a picture of what this means, I’ve included a photo above. Imagine yourself sitting down to read a novel or enjoy a fresh glass of brew, with your smartphone placed by your side. It is fair to say that you may become distracted and reach for your smartphone. It also fair to say that this may happen to you every 2 minutes. This is no different from welcoming an extremely furry, attention-grabbing fellow, to your side, whose only goal is to detract your focus as effectively as possible. I’m not saying we are better off without our smartphones, I don’t believe that, but I think our connection to them is worth examining.


Why are we so eager to pick up our smartphones?


3 Parts

1. As far as your perception is concerned, your smartphone is a human being. Although your phone is composed simply of pieces of metal and plastic, its seamless capabilities of connecting us to others and keeping us informed, are incredibly effective at putting themselves on your mind. In a similar fashion to when you hear your name called out of the blue, your smartphone has the means to fixate your attention. 

2. The reason slot machines are so addicting, is the same reason you feel naked without your smartphone. Cambridge slot machine researchers said, “When players got a “near-miss,” they reported it as a negative experience, but also reported an increased desire to play! That feeling matched up with activation of two brain areas commonly associated with drug addiction: the ventral striatum and the insula.” Slot machines are adept at sustaining your attention by keeping you engaged with immediate rewards, variable payouts that trick the player into thinking the more money they play, the more they will win, and the “illusion of control” (Mitchum). These characteristics are emulated by smartphones, especially the notion of variable payouts. Smartphones are carriers of the best types of news- e.g. an email that reads, “Congratulations! You have been accepted to your dream job/internship here!” Having experienced an email like that on your smartphone, how can you bring yourself to resist checking any other email you receive after that.

3. As you can see in the below graphic, our smartphones unlock all sorts of opportunities for the viewing of delightful media and natural, fulfilling interactions with others. The rich content smartphones offer is well-positioned to invoke your attention in new, and immersive ways.
mobile usage


What you can do about it, now

– Disable mail and social media notifications.
– Move your social networking / texting apps to their own home screen; these should be on a separate screen from your productivity apps (e.g. Task lists).
– When you think you’d better focus, stick your smartphone out of sight, out of reach, preferable in another room.
– Lastly, and most importantly, remember your smartphone is a person:
Just as in relationships, be intentional in your communication, not impulsive (Carter). If you find yourself reaching for your smartphone, answer this question: If your smartphone were a human being, would you want them to divert your attention at the given moment?



If you wouldn’t want a real person to physically swoop in and steal your attention at a given moment, don’t give your smartphone permission to.


There are considerably compelling forces at play in regards to your tight knit relationship with your smartphone, but how you lay down the boundaries of this friendship is up to you.




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