The birth of these slender marvels of technology, which we call smartphones have revolutionized how we communicate and interact with all sorts of media content. In these twenty odd years since the launch of the first smartphone, it has managed to replace more than 50 things – be it your Fuji digital camera, be it your Sony walkman, flashlight, compass, clock, newspaper, or even the theater and the list goes on. But like all good things, these indispensable gadgets too come at a serious cost. Smartphone addiction statistics in Singapore tell us a grim story about this ever-expanding, all-pervading phenomenon as well. The Statista Research Department has made forecasts, that by 2025 Singapore will have over 6 million smartphone users, climbing up from 4.7 in 2015.

Statistics for Smartphone Addiction In Singapore

PewResearch, Northpoint Washington, Tiger mobiles and a few other sources have compiled a few interesting statistics about smartphone addiction globally:  

  1. The average time spent on smartphones a day is 2 hours and 51 minutes. 
  2. The average smartphone owner will click, tap or swipe their phone 2,617 times a day.
  3. When leaving their phones at home, 50% of respondents feel uneasy.
  4. While 58% of smartphone users have admitted to trying to limit their device usage, only 41% succeeded in lessening their cell phone addiction.
  5. 87% of smartphone users check their device within an hour of going to sleep or waking up.
  6. 69% of smartphone users check their device within the first five minutes of waking up in the morning.
  7. More people have smartphones than toilets on a global scale.
  8. 20% of respondents in a smartphone usage survey would rather go without shoes for a week than be without their phone.
  9. Almost 40% of all consumers and 60% of 18-to 34-year-olds admit to using their phones too much.
  10. On average, people will spend 5 years and four months of their lifetimes on social media.
  11. On average, smartphone owners unlock their phones 150 times a day.
  12. Constant interruptions by alerts and notifications can contribute to ADD.

While being an extremely productive tool, the phenomena that smartphones have popularized the most among the masses, called social media has added a completely new dynamic to how we interact with people without actually being in the physical presence of each other. Naturally, with this added ease at being connected to the world can be overwhelming and brings along several negative effects with it. Smartphone addiction is unlike being addicted to drugs such as cannabis; sedatives; tobacco and alcohol. Smartphone addiction falls under the other category known as action behavior or behavior addiction such as gambling or gaming addiction. Although smartphone addiction is not defined or listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), several researches have compared it to gambling addiction, which has clearer diagnostic criteria and is defined in the DSM-5.

Symptoms for Smartphone Addiction

People with smartphone addiction in Singapore can be found preoccupied with their smartphones while being engaged in important tasks, feeling uneasy while not being around their phones, sometimes even manifestation of negative emotions can be observed when phone usage is restricted.

A lot of research has gone into this new domain of technological addiction, and in case of smartphone addiction it is usually classified it into five dimensions:

  • Inability to control cravings
  • Preoccupation
  • Feeling anxious and lost
  • Disregard harmful consequences, and
  • Productivity loss

However, smartphone addiction symptoms vary across different age groups due to difference in usage. 

Certain problems caused by smartphone addiction and their warning signs could be:

  • Having trouble finishing chores because you got caught up replying to texts, or playing video games on your smartphone for too long just because you had to cross that level, or unlock that bonus.
  • Feeling restless and dreadful when you go out somewhere without your phone, or if your battery runs out midway. Or constantly checking up on that notification bar to look for new messages, emails or updates.
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends can also be a problem that occurs with smartphone addiction. With smartphone addiction, people tend to feel that their online friends and virtual relationships are more important and valuable than the ones that they have in real life. This isolates them with the people that they’ve known for far longer and far more intimately in person. 
  • Not being able to do the daily tasks and fulfill the duties that you regularly are required to do. When your obsession and constant preoccupation with the smartphone takes over you so much that it interferes with your work life, social life and other duties, it can be called an addiction. 

Causes of Smartphone Addiction in Singapore

There is no known exact cause for this phenomenon, however, certain linkages have been found between widely researched behavioural addictions and cell phone obsession or overuse. The major factor here is the triggering of a chemical or a neurotransmitter in the brain, called dopamine, that reinforces this behaviour and turns it into a compulsive reaction. Social interaction can also release this feel-good chemical inside the brain and as phones are used for this very purpose by most people, they quickly develop the habit of constantly checking for notifications or connecting with someone on social media. 

This can be a problem of impulse-control and can be experienced with many other devices such as a laptop or a desktop computer. However, the small and portable size of the smartphones allows us to gratify our compulsions at any given time at our very own convenience. It is a fact that we’re barely ever away from our smartphones and most of us stay within a few feets of its radius. The loop of dopamine release after following through with the compulsive behaviour can also quickly lead to the build up of an addictive tolerance, making us rapidly expand our screen time and waste away the rest of the day. 

Problems Caused by Smartphone Addiction

Overusing the smartphone and increased screen time can be an indication or a symptom of other underlying mental health problems, such as anxiety, stress, depression and loneliness. It can also lead to such problems and in some cases even exacerbate them. Using the smartphone as a coping strategy to relieve negative feelings or to escape social awkwardness will only lead you to harming your connections with those who are present around you. A 2014 study has found a positive correlation between high social media usage and instances of depression and anxiety among the subjects. Smartphones, like stated earlier, also increase stress as work-related emails and other notifications make our smartphones beep all day, compelling us to check and be readily available 24/7. This may even contribute to burnout. 

Heavy smartphone usage is also known to worsen attention deficit disorders and diminish one’s ability to concentrate, creative and critical thinking skills and deteriorate our problem solving mechanisms as well. Excessive smartphone use is known to interfere with sleep cycles which severely impacts a person’s overall mental health. A higher likeliness to display (or develop) negative personality traits such as narcissism is also associated with high social media usage, as shown by a UK study.

How To Deal With Smartphone Addiction

Smartphone addiction, like other behavioral addictions, are difficult to let go of. However, with some essential measures and taking some effective steps towards eliminating the symptoms and overcoming this problem, one can easily keep smartphone and internet usage under control. These steps are as follows: 

  • Record your phone usage with an app or a personal diary and set limits to restrict yourself. If you achieve the limit goal, then reward yourself with something nice at the end of the day. 
  • Switch the phone off or use a productivity app that would help you restrict your smartphone usage during certain times of the day: Whenever you are trying to be productive, spending time with those around you, driving, etc., switch your phone off as it is best to do so.
  • Do not scroll on social media or use the phone before going to sleep: This will most definitely disrupt your sleep cycle. Instead, pick up a book to read before going to bed. 
  • Find out what exactly makes you use the phone so much: It could be loneliness, or boredom, or a way to cope with bad moods. All these problems have healthier and more effective solutions, like spending more time with friends and family, meditating, or picking up a sport to practice regularly. 
  • Work upon your self development and coping strategies: Build upon your social skills that will help you be more confident interacting with people offline. Social interaction in person is an essential need that we all have, and online communication simply cannot replace that. Try coping with your erratic moods in healthier ways such as working out, practicing relaxation techniques, or seeing a counsellor, etc. instead of spending time on the internet. 
  • Find and develop meaningful connections with those that you know in person: This will help you strengthen your support network. Dedicate some time to the people you know in real life, especially your family. You can also opt for volunteering for something good or enroll yourself in a hobby class or join a book reading or a fitness club. This way, you’d develop friendships and relationships more organically. 

At the end of the day, if you feel that your smartphone addiction is taking over you and is disrupting your daily life, then you must see a mental health professional. Certain therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavioural therapy, among others, can help you understand your problem and yourself much more effectively and bring in changes into your behaviour and thinking patterns. A study even suggests that CBT can help alter and balance the underlying brain chemistry associated with cell phone addiction. Reaching out for help is always the right thing to do when you feel overwhelmed, anxious and in need of guidance and support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Who is at greatest risk of developing a smartphone addiction?

Smartphone addiction, according to some studies, peaks during the years of adolescence and then gradually declines among people of older ages. And hence teenagers, mainly 13-15 year olds are at the greatest risk of developing a smartphone addiction.

Q. Can smartphone addiction cause withdrawal symptoms? If so, what are they?

Yes, it can very well cause a number of withdrawal symptoms that are experienced in gambling addiction as well. They are restlessness, anger or irritability, inability to concentrate, disrupted sleep cycle, constantly wanting to access the smartphone.

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