"Your Buddy the Cellphone," Anxiety and Affection

This paper is now being used at the University of Connecticut for future classes. I received 100 points on the paper, which totals 15 pages. 

 

The Dangers of Cellphone Overuse on Anxiety and Mental Health

Cell phones are everywhere. Cell phone use has only gone up in past years, and in 2015, 68% of Americans owned a smart phone (Pew Research 2015). That’s a 33% increase from 2011, and the numbers keep getting higher. For those owning a cell phone, 90% report that it’s on their body “frequently,” and a share say they use cell phone apps and browsers “continuously” (Rainie & Zickuhr 2015).

In the past, it was accepted that to reach another person, they had to be at home and hear the phone. Phones with cords meant traveling to the kitchen and awkwardly standing around until you were finished talking. Now, with cell phones on hand 24/7, one can be reached at any time. Whether lying awake at night, the dull glow inhibiting serotonin (Santhi, Thorne1, Veen, Johnsen, Mills, Hommes, Schlangen3, Archer1 & Dijk, 2011) or getting a text during a conversation with a real person and stopping to check it, there is a psychological weight to being always connected that is pulling people away from reality. Cell phones are a comforting addition to people’s lives, but that comfort is similar to the comfort felt by alcoholics and drug addicts, as cell phones use is linked to anxiety and depression, and has withdrawal effects in many cases (Konok, Gigler, Bereczky & Miklosi, 2016).

People can become attached to their cell phones, worrying if they drop them and cradling them like a child. Because they are such an integral part of the human experience now, a kind of cell phone attachment has now developed, focusing less on the allowances cell phones give us and more on the object itself. When charged events in one’s life occur, one can check their cell phone almost like a security blanket, reminding the user that being connected is only a few button presses away. This fear, coupled with the need for connection and concern that one will miss out on social connections bleeds into real life and flesh and blood relationships. This paper will focus on the fact that overuse of cell phones can cause anxiety, lead to problems in interpersonal communication and even be a danger to mental health.

When do cell phones stop being a tool and start being a clutch? Because cell phones are not malevolent, their misuse cannot be attributed to the technology itself. Instead, a cell phone is an item that is psychologically soothing (Konok et. al, 2016) in times of stress. In an article focused on mobile phones as they relate to attachment styles, (a system that explains when people are motivated to connect to others, and why) it was found that when an attachment object, such as a mother or relative, was not available, children found methods for coping. Attachment avoidance happens when a child either distances themselves from others as a result of this attachment figure being unavailable or finds an alternate form of comfort. It is important to note that this comfort does not have to come from a flesh and blood person—it can be a pet or an inanimate object, such as a phone (Konak, et. al., 2016).

The study also found that even healthy, functioning adults could fall prey to the lure of an inanimate object’s affection. When social relationships are unfulfilling, the cellphone becomes a security blanket to rely on (Konak, et. al., 2016). This may not be a sign of mental instability—on the contrary, attachment to non-living objects is nothing new. Many people may become attached to their car, for example, and this is not looked at as odd in the slightest. However, while cars may provide a certain comfort, the attachment to cell phones can become unhealthy for a different reason.

Unlike a car, the relationship between a person and their cellphone show many similarities between a mother and child. More specifically, “proximity seeking and separation stress” (Konak, et. al., 2016). Why is this common with cell phones, but not other inanimate objects, such as one’s wallet or car? Both offer affordances, and a car allows one access to social connections while a wallet gives access to basically everything. However, while a car may be looked at with fondness, it is by no means a fanatical obsession, and a wallet is simply a means to an end. So why are cell phones so different?

Calen Nakash