Are You Addicted to Your Phone, or Your Friends?

Good news! Although you probably are checking your phone too much (sorry) it might be for all the right reasons.

While lots of people are dependent on their phones, looking at them an average of 85 times a day, it might not be a sign of the end times, or even a sign that we’ve given up on social interaction.

In fact, it might be a sign of the opposite.

Phone rewire pbs

By diving into a pile of existing research on cellphone use and overuse, researchers at McGill University discovered an evolutionary cause for the way we use our cellphones. Keeping tabs on social media via our phones is often seen as antisocial and voyeuristic, even joked about as “creeping” or “stalking.” But it might be born of a deep-seated evolutionary need to see and be seen by the people around us.

Why we need to connect

Humans are social animals, and even when we’re doing something as solitary as checking our phones, we crave human connection. McGill professors Samuel Veissière and Moriah Stendel found that the most common uses for our phones—like texting, emailing and social media—all attempt to satiate that craving.

“When it comes to smartphone use, current scientific literature and intuitive wisdom are overwhelmingly pessimistic, warning us of the dangers these new technologies enable,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“Popular accounts, we argue, miss the mark on a crucially important factor: it is not so much smartphones themselves that are addictive, but rather the sociality that they afford. We insist that this drive for sociality is a fundamental feature of human evolution that predates smartphones by hundreds of thousands–by some accounts several millions–of years.

“Simply put, smartphone addiction is hyper-social, not anti-social.”

Phone rewire pbs

Why do we want to watch and be watched? You might not realize it, but humans require constant input to learn how to navigate the world and how they fit into it, Veissière said in a news release about the research.

Our desire to feel connected and seen can lead us to go overboard with cellphone use, Veissière said. The happy feeling we get when someone texts us or sends us a meme on Instagram can be addicting. It pushes us to seek that validation constantly (that’s why we pick up our phones 85 times a day).

The outcomes might not be positive—distraction from work, car accidents and even sleep deprivation—but our rampant overuse stems from something innately human.

Getting your phone use in control

Understandable human impulse or not, there’s a time and a place for being on your phone, Veissière admitted. If you want to get your use under control, here’s what the researchers recommend (it’s all about setting boundaries):

  • Turn off your apps’ push notifications.
  • Intentionally set times to check your phone and stick to the schedule.
  • Talk with friends and family about when not to text you, like during work hours or after 11 p.m.
  • Talk with your managers about the times of day you’ll read and respond to work correspondence.
Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.