2am panic attack after waking up, reaching for my smartphone and reading a tweetstorm about the latest Donald Trump controversy that I realised I may have a problem. That, and the fact that even my 10-year-old son had started telling me to put my phone down when he caught me not paying attention.
I’m not alone. When Deloitte surveyed 4,150 British adults in 2017 about their mobile habits, 38% said they thought they were using their smartphone too much. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, that rose to more than half. Habits such as checking apps in the hour before we go to sleep (79% of us do this, according to the study) or within 15 minutes of waking up (55%) may be taking their toll on our mental health.
It’s not necessarily the top thing when my clients come in, but it’s often in the mix, tied in with anxiety or insomnia or relationship issues,” says psychotherapist Hilda Burke, a spokesperson for National Unplugging Day in 2016 and 2017. “Particularly when anxiety and insomnia’s there, it’s rare that it’s not related in some way to heavy use of digital devices.”
Often, the apps themselves aren’t helping: from games to social networks, they’re precision engineered to create and feed our interaction neediness. According to British apps developer Nick Kuh: “A lot of these companies are employing behavioural psychologists to really nail that: finding ways to draw you back in. I’ve worked on apps like that myself, and it’s not something I’m proud of.”