Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Being Smarter About Using Our Smartphones

Sometimes you know that something in your life impacts you in certain ways but you don’t know the official name and you really don’t know exactly how it works. That is how I felt about Behavioral Architecture.

The first time I came upon the term was reading Adam Alter’s book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked.

Alter asked the following question: How far are you from your phone right now? Can you reach it without moving your feet? And when you sleep, can you reach your phone from your bed?

Whereas I had to admit I could easily reach my phone without using my feet, I can’t reach my phone from my bed but it is in the room. What about you?

Essentially, Alter is inviting us to consider that the location of our smart phones may be unwittingly shaping the degree and impact of our smartphone use. It is worth consideration.

Smartphone Use

We are using smartphones more than ever. Since 2011, the ownership of smart phones among US adults has gone from 35% to 77%. The use of social media since 2005 has gone from 5% to 69%.

We are using smartphones more than ever because they meet basic needs and more in terms of interpersonal connection, information, self-expression, exploration and convenience. We not only can find the item I need – I can have it in 24 hours or less. We not only can connect with relatives in distant locations – We can facetime with them.

The reality, however, is that many of us hardly put our smartphones down. In a Survey of 536 respondents representative of the US population, 75% reported keeping their cell phones on all day and night. Almost half of the respondents (46%) check their smartphones as soon as they wake up and while they are still in bed. Sixty-six percent of Millennials check it before getting out of bed and 28% over breakfast.

According to a study reported by Business Insider, the typical cellphone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times every day, with extreme users touching their phone 5,400 times.

 Designing Our Smartphone Use

 The question to consider is whether the day and night availability and continued checking and signaling of our smartphones starts to tip use from asset to liability.

Here are three possible liabilities that might be reduced by drawing upon Behavioral Architecture to use location of the smartphone and planned time segments to design our smartphone use.

Distractibility in the Office

Experts suggest that although many of us have the illusion that we are “multi-tasking,” we are really doing something called toggling between tasks, which demands constant context switching.

The typical office worker gets only 11 minutes of focus between interruptions and it takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus on the original task or context. When we add the presence of our smartphones, we compound those interruptions. Someone said that emails are like zombies- “You can kill them but they just keep coming.” The average time an office email goes unread is six seconds!

The impact on performance and productivity is great. According to Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass, people who report being great at “multi-tasking” are actually found to be chronically distracted. His research finds that although they say they can shut it off and become laser focused, they cannot. Ultimately they waste more time trying to multi-task. In addition work performance, concentration and creativity are all compromised.

Reducing Distraction in the Office

  • What if we planned to keep our cell phone out of view in the office (in our pocket, purse, drawer) with the plan of designating 20 minute segments for checking personal email, messages etc.
  • Professor Clifford Nass suggests that a planned 20-minute rule of focus on email rather than 100 to 200 minutes of “ little bits and bleeds” results in better efficiency and treatment of your brain.
  • Letting family and close friends know that you plan two 20-minute sessions in the course of your day, for example, reduces the pressure and anxiety that drives constant vigilance.
  • Supporting this type of planned use of on-line connection, Tim Ferris recommends a list of apps and options to interrupt interruptions. One of these called “ Freedom” is an apple app that will allow you to turn off your Internet irrevocably for a set period of time. If you have the guts to hit it once- you are free and won’t be able to turn it back on until the end of the time you set aside. What a gift!

 Danger on The Road

 According to health news, people just can’t seem to walk down a street without doing something with their mobile device. The result has been bumping into walls, falling down stairs, and stepping into traffic.

Much as with driving, even with a handsfree phone, when you are texting, emailing or talking on a phone, that becomes the primary task your brain is focusing upon. When walking, awareness of traffic, your surroundings, and situations of danger, become secondary.

One new study entitled “Walking While Texting Could be Deadly” reports a 10% spike in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of last year – the largest year-to-year increase in such deaths in four decades.

 I was walking in New York City on a busy workday when I stopped with many at a curb just as the light turned red. One young woman in high heels, eyes glued to her phone kept walking. As she crossed, making her way almost to the curb, a large truck came storming by. When it passed we all gasped as we saw her lying in the road. As we all lurched to run toward her, she suddenly got up (apparently the wind from the truck had knocked her down) looked down at her cell phone and kept going!! Sadly she missed the terrifying lesson we witnessed.

 Avoiding Danger

  • Where you place your smartphone (purse, pocket, briefcase) can place you out of harm’s way. No one can look at a phone and look at traffic, surroundings or potential danger at the same time.
  • Why not set up a message on your emails that you will return messages after a certain time? Why not stop and step into a safe place to text you are on route and will respond when you have arrived.
  • Why not consider that most people don’t expect instant response unless they are conditioned by us to get it!

 Disconnection with On-line Connection

  • Do our day and night on-line connections compromise the quality of our face-to-face relating and relationships?
  • Apart from the pros and cons of Facebook, such as the magic of making new friends and connecting with old friends vs. the downside of comparison with everyone else’s picture perfect lives, we might want to consider the impact of constant beeps, tweets, instagrams, snapchats and signals that interrupt face-to face connections.
  • The worry that we will lose a friend or be the only friend who doesn’t respond to someone’s instagram, can start to dilute our in-person connections.
  • Since our behavior shapes our children’s behavior, our inability to sustain a focus on them, has to disrupt their sustained focus. The four year old we were playing with may act up or give up when you disappear into the phone- the teen will most likely take out his or her own smartphone.

Reconnection Despite On-line Connection

  • Perhaps reconsideration of the visible location of your smartphone and the decision to be unavailable on-line so that you can be available in person for your relationships has the greatest payoff.
  • The research of neuropsychologist, Allan Schore and others inform us that we are wired to make eye contact. From the earliest infant-mother connection, gazing is crucial to bonding, regulation of feelings and development of healthy attachment patterns. You and your children need this eye to eye bonding without disruption.
  • In your adult relationships, it is compliment for someone to observe you ignore the beeps and signals of your phone for them. As I shared in an earlier blog, there is increasing evidence that eye contact is associated with the power to influence, connect, support, invite trust, and enhance intimacy with another person.

Design Your Smartphone Use.

Being Smart with Your Smartphone is in Your Hands.

Listen in to issues and recommendations for On-line Connectivity – Podcast with social media expert, Dr. Evans on Psych Up Live