Addicted to your smartphone? You're not alone

In the age of 'nomophobia,' more pedestrians are struck by cars, mobile shopping is an evening pastime and checking one's phone has replaced quiet reflection.

By Jon Gorey Oct 17, 2013 2:16PM
CNBC on MSN MoneyCouple using smartphones while in a restaurant (copyright Jamie Grill/Getty Images)By Catherine Boyle, CNBC.com

We have all seen them: lurching along city streets, only breaking their gaze from their object of desire when they either bump into another person or building -- or a beeping car swerves to avoid them.


The age of the "nomophobic" -- those who are afraid of being without their mobile phone -- is upon us, according to a U.K. academic.


"People's inability to leave their phones alone is the newest addition to common 'displacement' behaviors such as smoking, doodling, fiddling with objects and picking at food. It's also an extension of 'nomophobia' -- the fear of being without your mobile," according to Dr. Simon Hampton, psychology lecturer at the University of East Anglia.


"Rather than do nothing, we're compelled to turn to them for reassuring comfort." Smartphones now dominate the handset market in the developed world, and are used by more than half the mobile phone users in the U.S., South Korea, the U.K., Norway, Sweden and Australia, according to eMarketer.


Yet concerns have been raised about their prevalence. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blamed an 8 percent rise in the number of American pedestrians killed in road accidents between 2009-11 on "distracted walking" -- walking while texting, reading or listening to music.


Psychologists have also warned that it may have the effect of isolating young people in particular and inhibiting their communication skills.


The average web-connected user in the U.K. uses a smartphone, tablet or laptop for a total of two hours, 12 minutes a day, and for nearly half this time they're using at least two devices, sometimes three, according to data collected by the Internet Advertising Bureau from close to 1,400 smartphone users.


Smartphone usage changes throughout the day, with users focused on getting information like weather, travel and news in the morning, doing tasks like banking in the afternoon, and using their devices for entertainment and shopping in the evening, according to the IAB.


This is even having an impact on etiquette, with more than a third of users regularly looking at their phone while talking to friends.


And quiet periods of reflection are increasingly being swapped for fiddling with your phone. Over half of the phone users surveyed by IAB prefer to check their smartphone if they have "downtime" rather than just sit and think, and this rises to 62 percent among the 18- to 30-year-olds surveyed.


This new addiction reinforces the importance of digital media as a way of targeting consumers, for retailers in particular.


"This mildly compulsive behavior might be exploited to encourage purchasing, particularly as digital increasingly blurs the line between shopping and entertainment," Hampton said.


"There's no doubt that connected devices have changed the shopping process but even how people regard it. Shopping, particularly browsing for aspirational products such as holidays or higher-value items, has become part of the evening's leisure time," Tim Elkington, director of Research & Strategy at the Internet Advertising Bureau, said.


More from CNBC.com

10Comments
Oct 17, 2013 3:19PM
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Recently, I observed a mother and her two children while getting a car wash.  The entire time the car was being washed, vacuumed and dried, the three never spoke.  They never even looked up from the phones.  When their car was finished, the attendant had to come get them.  The arm waving and attempts to call them to the car went unnoticed.  As they walked outside they barely looked up.

As the car drove away, the kids kept looking down and mother began talking on her phone.

What a wonderful moment wasted in life.

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Its called antisocial behavior.  Good luck making real friends.
Oct 18, 2013 9:30AM
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I don't have a smartphone...I don't even want one.
Oct 17, 2013 4:55PM
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Is it a shock that many under 40 (50?) are becoming dumber and fatter by the month?  I carry a cane which I call my iProd to poke people who cannot carry on an eye to eye, face to face conversation with me...just kidding.  I often see mom and pop with two or three kids in a restaurant in which all are looking down at a tiny screen to scoll, text. Oops, with ear buds and not much in between as they cannot even finish hearing the song as they scroll...Mylie Cyrus to Angry Birds.  
Oct 18, 2013 7:00AM
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Every I-Phone pecker needs to wear a sign that says: [x number] Billion of brain cells stolen here.
Dec 18, 2013 12:09PM
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I take the train every day and it's incredibly scary when you see how addicted people are to their gadgets.  My ride is about 40 minutes and some people don't even come up for air the entire time.  Then you have those who feel the need to use it just for the sake of using it.  They'll call someone, get off the phone and right away they're looking at the contact list to see who else they can call.  And again and again.  It's really sad.  When you talk about slavery most people are glad to live in North America in the modern age.  The sad reality is that most are slaves to these devices and don't even know it.  Children at the dinner table with cell phones and all.  Parents are clueless.  Oh well, slave away all... Slave away....
Oct 17, 2013 9:43PM
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This subject needs to be studied more. It's a huge change in the way humans communicate and make certain decisions. 
Oct 18, 2013 2:10AM
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In addition to the psychological addiction, there may be physical harm from long-term use of what is in fact a very low-powered, but unshielded microwave oven.  The government assumes that microwave radiation that isn't strong enough to cook flesh is perfectly safe.  There are a fair number of studies indicating that's not true.  Read them yourselves at www.bioiniative.org
Dec 18, 2013 8:53AM
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More and more, stores and restaurants are banning cellphone use, of whatever kind, for whatever reason on their premises.  If customers want to use them, they can go out on the curb with the smokers.  This is good.  Even the majority of customers, many of whom are cellphone addicts, agree with this.
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