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The Smartphone Syndrome: Are We Becoming Too Addicted To Our Phones For Our Own Good? [Opinion]

Yaara Lancet 11-10-2011

The Smartphone Syndrome: Are We Becoming Too Addicted To Our Phones For Our Own Good? [Opinion] image10Let me start by saying that I don’t have a smartphone, but I probably will in the future. This is not a rant against smartphones, or a call for everyone to go back to Nokia 6070s. I think smartphones are basically awesome and I have nothing against the basic idea of replacing our phones with mini-computers.


My problem starts when the lines between fun and work, between alone and together, between communication and confusion – become blurred. I feel that many people are losing the ability to NOT use their phones, even when it’s not the best thing they could be doing at the moment. I feel that sometimes, surprisingly, communication using smartphones can become harder instead of easier, especially with people who are less computer-literate. And let’s face it, at this rate, most of them will have smartphones by the end of the year. So why do I think we might be too addicted to our phones?


E-mails are increasingly becoming a huge part of our lives. We get more and more of them every year, and a growing amount of our communication – both personal and work-related – is being done through e-mails.


Smartphones made it easier than ever before to access these e-mails everywhere. Whether you’re on the bus, in bed, in line at the supermarket or at the bar with your friends – your e-mails are right there and available to you and this can definitely be a problem. I can’t begin to count the times I was hanging out with someone when suddenly he just had to check his e-mails (and maybe answer one or two. Or three). Not to mention the fact that many phones beep every single time a new e-mail arrives. Is it really possible to achieve any peace of mind this way?

Constant e-mail availability also helps blur the line between work time and off time. Work is great, but is answering e-mails at 3AM really necessary in order to keep it? Do you really want to have to choose between friends and work when you’re hanging out in a bar, just because you happened to see that e-mail? Not mention the typo-ridden e-mails and/or misunderstandings that arise from people who just have to answer your e-mail from wherever they are, even though they can’t really pay attention to it and type a normal reply.


Replaces Other Pastimes


I’ve just returned from two years in a different country, and haven’t been around my friends for a while. While I was gone, they all got smartphones. The first several times I met them all, I was surprised to discover that even though we’re all sitting around in the same room, people are actually sitting around in pairs around smartphones and playing/surfing/taking pictures. I also know some people who read much less because they spend most of their free time playing with their phone.

So again, I’m not saying these activities are bad, but should they replace many of the other things we used to be doing, together and alone?


I already mentioned taking pictures, but the camera deserves its own section. True, smartphones have increasingly good cameras, and I’ve seen pictures taken by phones that would not have come out better using a regular camera. It’s also true that it’s nice to have such a good camera available at all times. But as nice as it is, the line has to be drawn somewhere!



Maybe it’s just me, but I find the “taking each other’s pictures” pastime to be extremely annoying. I’ve seen people go out for coffee and simply sit there with their phone for 2 hours taking each other’s pictures, looking at it, laughing, and taking some more. I know people could be doing this with cameras just as easily, but they don’t!

Too Many Ways to Communicate

This is a good one. Theoretically, smartphones should make communication between people much easier. This is not always the case, however. A while ago a friend told me that his mother keeps asking him why he doesn’t answer her messages. She keeps trying to talk to him but he never answers. The reason for this was that she was sending him messages through regular text messages, Skype, Gtalk, WhatsApp, e-mails and probably through other protocols as well, and he never even knew what she was referring to when she asked him why he wasn’t answering.



In a regular phone, there are only so many ways to communicate. If someone sends me a text message, I either get it or I don’t. Smartphones open up numerous ways to communicate, and we embrace them all. But sometimes it’s not so clear anymore where we’re communicating, and the communication gets lost. And doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose of phones, really?

Bottom Line

Smartphones revolutionized out lives. I’m not here to contend that. What I’ve written may not apply to you specifically; but if you think about it for a minute, I’m sure you’ll find someone you know who sometimes finds it hard to draw the line between phone time and people time. This has been a problem for a while, but smartphones make it that much worse. So don’t throw away your smartphones just yet; but do try to remember, at the end of the day, they’re just phones!

What do you think? Are we becoming too addicted to smartphones, or is it all in my head? Share your opinions in the comments.

Image credit: Shutterstock, Shutterstock, Shutterstock, Shutterstock, Shutterstock


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  1. jlm
    November 4, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I just recently got a smartphone and the thing that makes it incredibly valuable to me is the widget that shows my google calendar entries, and evernote.  I've always been a space-case.  Now, with my phone, my calendar is always with me and I can jot things down on the fly even when I've lost my pen or didn't have enough room in my bag for my notebook or I'm just not carrying my bag at all.

  2. curts
    October 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Good comments, but here are a few more thoughts.  A core issue is setting and respecting boundaries.

    On the subject of work email (and text msgs), my first smartphone was issued to me by my employer.  It is linked to my company email and I completely agree with James it is a great benefit when traveling during normal work hours or any other time *officially* spent on the company clock.  At the end of the business day, it gets turned OFF, except on the *rare* instance something really important and *scheduled in advance* needs to be addressed after hours.

    For personal email, turn off the automatic sync/update.  Pull your email only when it is an appropriate use of your time.  If the message is urgent, that's what text messages are for.  I don't use Facebook, but I believe the same observation applies to social network updates and IM activity.

    I also agree with James the smartphone is simply an extension to our Internet access.  Sometimes it is extremely useful.  I was recently driving to a pub I had not been to before and as the roads and villages got smaller and smaller I started doubting the route on my satnav (they are not infallible, after all).  Pulling over and doing a quick browse on the Internet to verify I had the correct address and just needed to carry on a bit further was a significant relief.  The problem is when we cross the line from it being useful to connect to the Internet from nearly anywhere to feeling lost or anxious when not connected.  The same goes for smartphone applications.  Not everyone needs (or can afford or is given) a continous, all-you-can-eat data plan.  I have no problem with free, ad supported apps, but it is wrong for an app to refuse to function without an active Internet connection when its only need for the connection is to serve its ads.  Ad supported apps should cache their ads and work with or without an Internet connection present.  This is further compounded when you travel outside your home country and by necessity need to turn data roaming off.  My personal smartphone is on a pay & go plan.  Conciously deciding if it is worth spending £1 for a day of mobile Internet access does wonders for self-regulating Internet activities on one's smartphone.

  3. James Bruce
    October 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Looks like you've hit a chord with most of our readers, so I'm going to play devils advocate here. I think most your points are complete nonsense. 

    First - you seem to be saying that being able to check emails while on the bus or waiting in line at the supermarket is a bad thing. I'd say that's only true if you don't value your time. If I have a 1 -2 hour bus or train ride, being able to cut through a mountain of emails and potentially save myself 2 hours of additional work once I get home is fantastic. Suddenly, the dead time of journeying and waiting in line becomes *useful* time. Assuming the volume of email is the same, regardless of whether i check it on my phone or at home - that means I'll now have more time when at home to spend productively with my family, out in the garden, or working on my own projects on the computer. 

    As for friends or partners playing with their phone while travelling or hanging out with them - thats a simple question of manners and upbringing. I would say that if a group of friends has nothing better to do than sit around looking at their phones, then perhaps you should consider new friends or introducing something fun to do. Personally, I like to play board games with my friends; and if someone was so uninterested that they felt the need to stare at the phone, I simply wouldnt invite or hang out with them again.  

    Your point about cameras is meh. In Japan, a popular past time is to go into purikura booths and take pictures of everyone, then decorate and print the results. It's pretty much the same as doing it on your phone, and who are you or I to pass judgement on that? It's vain perhaps, but so what? The point is though that having a camera constantly on you has changed society dramatically - documenting revolutions, exposing police brutality, and frankly giving us hours of hilarious youtube videos (as well as the bad ones too). Cameras on phones = a good thing (and you didnt even mention video in your article)

    As for various ways to message, you seem to be stretching a bit. If you've called and texted someone, you might then shoot off an email if its important - but moving onto skype, gtalk... really? Do you think normal people actually do that? I certainly dont, and none of my friends do, and I think the case you've described is probably more a description of an overly protective mother that a typical use case. 

    Instead of being addicted to smartphones, I would argue that we're addicted to computers and the internet in general, definitely - smartphones are merely an extension of that. They're only phones in the sense that they make calls - for all other intent and purposes they are mini computers. 

    It sounds really like you would have made the same case 15 years ago when texting first happened - damn kids spending all their time texting - do we really need another form of communication, whats wrong with just phoning them? - information overload as the texts pour in...

    Anyway, just my thoughts. 

  4. Anonymous
    October 12, 2011 at 3:58 am

    just imagine when they come incorporated in our brains....

    how the hell u turn that thing off !

    • Yaara
      October 12, 2011 at 7:13 am

      So true. Some people have trouble turning them off as it is. :)

  5. Muzz
    October 12, 2011 at 12:31 am

    This isn't just a smartphone thing but phones also make us less likely to keep commitments. It' much easier to text I can't make it than calling the person to explain ( sent from my smartphone :)

    • Yaara
      October 12, 2011 at 7:13 am

      Yep, I agree about that. Texting makes communication much easier, sometimes to the point of irresponsibility. But like you said, it's not a smartphone thing. :)

  6. Esteban
    October 11, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Don't get me started on the FB app! (No, I don't have it installed). Out in the bar with some friends and avery 10 minutes they just HAVE to check their facebooks.

    And my GF at night? She stays online on every conceivable IM app. She's sound asleep but the IMs keep-a-coming! That's ridiculous!

    • Yaara
      October 12, 2011 at 7:11 am

      One of my friends set it so every time she gets a Facebook update, the phone beeps as if it got a text message. And it's not just a beep, it's a whole orchestral performance. Every time someone updates a status!

  7. Sabih
    October 11, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    I agree after seeing my friends, I can agree!

    Great article by the way!

    • Yaara
      October 12, 2011 at 7:09 am

      Thank you Sabih!

  8. Yang Yang Li
    October 11, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Nicely put, the major issue I have with the advent of smart phones is that people talk less and less. Texting is vastly inefficient. Talking allows me to convey the amount of information in 1 minute that would take texting 30. Texting also removes the human  touch of communication.
    One last note, this article was a little dry. Try adding some humor or ranting a little ;-)

    • Daniel Escasa
      October 12, 2011 at 3:16 am

      Sending a text message in some instances is not necessarily more efficient but simply “better”. Say I'm giving instructions on how to get from “there” to “here”. Sure, I could give instructions via a voice call, but a text message is handy as a semi-permanent record, for the next time they have to get from “there” to “here”.

    • Yaara
      October 12, 2011 at 7:09 am

      Thanks for the input. :)

      I, personally, don't have as big a problem with texting, but it anyway existed even before smartphones. I've been texting ever since I got my first Nokia.

      And about humor - I guess I just didn't want to offend anyone by ranting too much, but I agree that I probably should have done it more in an opinion piece!

  9. Bofh
    October 11, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    You may want to add the distraction factor. 

     Just before reading this somebody got off at the bottom of an escalator and stopped to type a text or e-mail, blocking the way of others being motivated off.  Then he got angry when the person behind him pushed him out of the way.

    I've seen pedestrians crossing on red lights merrily tapping away and do we really have to mention drivers?

    • Yaara
      October 12, 2011 at 7:06 am

      Wow, that's totally right. Don't know how I didn't mention this one. I see it all the time! Thanks Bofh!

      Maybe I'll have to do a sequel. :)