Smartphone Addiction: Habit, Health, Happiness – Episode 28


Just how addicted are we to smartphones? What does it mean for our physical and mental health, and how much does it really matter?  Emily and Melanie review stats on usage, psychological research on smartphone habits, health impacts, and the unclear safety of cell phones.


I. Smartphone proliferation:

  1. Global cell phone subscription soared from 12.4 million in 1990 to 7 billion in 2013.
  2. 2.7 hours per day are spent socializing on our cell phones – twice the time we spend eating.
  3. The typical smartphone user spends regarding $107 monthly for wireless access-more than the typical house pays for electricity each month. –, 10/19/13
  4. 15.7 billion texts are sent each month. That’s 363,426 per minute or 6,057 right this second. –Pong Research, 2013
  5. New moms spend more time on smartphones (their “lifelines”) than other adults. Average 37 hours per month, 20% more time than the average millennial (~31 hours). –LA Times, 10/24/13


  • Research shows that 73 percent of Americans would feel “panicked” without their smartphones
  • In a 2013 study, 30% of people admitted to snooping on someone else’s mobile phone
  • 12%  of people surveyed are concerned that smartphones are damaging their relationships
Why do we instinctively pull out our phones when we have a moment of non-occupation?

mother checking her phone baby stroller falls downChecking habits:

Because we use smartphones in so many different situations, and to accomplish so many different tasks, we develop a vast range of triggers and cues associated with pulling them out and looking at them.
-Scott Campbell, a communications professor at the University of Michigan
What concerns us here is that if your habitual response to, say, boredom, is that you pick up the phone to find interesting stimuli, you will be systematically distracted from the more important things happening around you. Habits are automatically triggered behaviors and compromise the more conscious control that some situations require…

-Antti Oulasvirta, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

Impacts on Health: Cell Phone Radiation

  • In May 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
  • Recall the hidden bit of legalese that comes in the safety manual for Apple’s iPhone 4: When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) away from the body, and only use carrying cases, belt clips, or holders that do not have metal parts and that maintain at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) separation between iPhone and the body.
  • Manufacturers of multiple smartphone brands place these warnings on user manuals to cover themselves in what is still a legally unclear situation.

Why government cell phone safety testing is inconclusive:

  • A cell phone’s SAR, or Specific Absorption Rate, is a measure of the amount of radio frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body when using the handset. All cell phones emit RF energy. The FCC’s 2001 manufacturer guidelines require that SAR must be no more than 1.6 watts of RF energy per kg of body tissue. This standard was considered a worst-case scenario.
  • FCC guidelines assumed that there would be a buffer between the device and the body. But there is typically not a 1-1.5 inch separation between body and phone. –, 10/26/10
  • Find your device on CNET’s cell phone radiation levels chart, which shows that Apple’s iPhone 5 emits 1.25 SAR, the highest of any iPhone (SAR increases by generation, with iPhone at 0.974, iPhone 3G at 1.38, iPhone 4 at 1.17, etc.)
  • Compare: Samsung Galaxy S II has an SAR of 0.36, the S III has 0.74 on AT&T (but 0.43 and 0.48 on T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, interestingly), and the Samsung Galaxy S4 SAR is 0.84 on AT&T, which is 33% lower than iPhone 5.
  • In March 2013, the FCC officially opened an inquiry into whether the current U.S. safety standard is adequate to protect consumers. –Pong Research

Ask: Why did the FCC testing regulations omit the most typical use case: a situation in which the phone was broadcasting at full power while inside a shirt or pants pocket flush against the body?human evolution ape to modern computer user

Why do we do it to ourselves?

If we suspect or know that our cell phones are damaging us in different ways ranging from possible increased risk for cancer, texting while driving accidents, and damage to relationships, why do we stay addicted? Emily and Melanie weigh in. 


1) Pong: The First Intelligent iPhone Case – for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry. Claims to “reduce your radiation exposure by up to 82% below the international safety limit.” Pong’s Gold Reveal for iPhone 5 comes in white, teal, red, and black for $59.99. How it works: “When a Pong case is snapped onto a phone, the paper-thin antenna embedded in the case establishes an electric field with the antenna inside the phone. This steers the energy away from the front of the device (the user-facing side) and toward the Pong case instead.” -Todd DeYoung, Pong’s president and CEO

2) –This website tracks and posts information on possible track leaks, news, and updates on anticipated albums before they are released. Find out if your favorite artist has posted a secret track to their website or YouTube channel, if a release date has changed, and if the album has been leaked. Has It Leaked also provides a safe forum for fans to discuss the leaked music outside of the often shady torrent sites where albums are illegally downloaded.

3) DuoLingo a free app and website to learn languages using scientifically proven games. Learn or practice English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese. More languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Polish and Russian should become available soon thanks to the crowdsourced Language Incubator.

Additional Sources:

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