Why Are We Addicted to Our Cell Phones?

Young_people_texting_on_smartphones_using_thumbs

“Computers are useless, they can only give you answers” – Pablo Picasso

I’m teaching classes and I can’t seem to understand why college students can’t get off their phones for an hour. They put them on their desks, hunch over them, stare at the little screens, click away and seem addicted to this little device. I call them out, make fun, a little shaming, all to no avail. The “addiction” is too strong.

Maybe these findings from a recent Pew study can shed some light on the phenomenon.

  • The largest category of people who use their cell phone as their primary means of internet access are 18-29 year olds
  • Overwhelmingly, people are using their cell phones as a tool for tasks like getting directions
  • Mostly, using a cell phone makes people feel productive and happy.

The cell phone technology seemed to appear overnight. We still haven’t caught up with it. Social norms are lagging behind when it comes how to use this technology and still fit in during social interactions.

I sat in a hospital waiting room the other day and had to listen to a grandpa’s out loud detailed business conversation he was having on his cell phone. He never seemed to think he should get up and leave the room – sparing all of us the embarrassment of being forced to eavesdrop on his life.

Families are responsible for what we call primary socialization – helping children learn how to navigate the world (yes sir, look both ways, sharing, etc.). Cell phone norms seem like something we are all going to have to develop and teach as we grow up with this rapidly advancing technology.

Based on these findings from the Pew research;

  1. I need to help my students by providing them with some specific norms in my classes.
  2. I should find ways that students can use their phones in class to search for information and help us all to learn (a technique one of my colleagues already uses).
  3. There are sure to be ways that I can piggy back important lessons in sociology to their strong desire to remain socially connected during class. Their desires to be productive on their phones can be used to also be productive in learning content in the course. I think. I’m going to work on this.

It’s a relief to see in this Time Magazine survey report that the U.S. is BEHIND other countries in our cell phone addiction!

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

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