Isn't it virtually impossible to imagine what life used to be like before smartphones? A significant proportion of the global population will surely agree – there were nearly 5 billion people worldwide in 2022 with access to smartphones, a number which increased to over 5.25 billion in 2023. These figures show a steady annual increase similar to what's been observed yearly over the last decade – hence, Statista predicts that 6.2 billion people will use smartphones by 2028.
Mobile phone technology has revolutionised how we communicate – and so much more. We can do everything on our cell phones, from connecting with friends, work colleagues and brands to banking, entertainment and shopping. Some people use their phones so much that they've become addicted to them – continually picking them up and checking them throughout the day.
The question is, are you addicted to your phone? Would it really matter if you were? These eye-opening phone addiction statistics will give you your answer.
How do experts define cell phone addiction?
Cell phone addiction (also informally known as nomophobia) is when a mobile phone user loses control over the conscious decision to use their phone.
Nomophobia isn't formally recognised as a condition by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). However, many medical and scientific experts worldwide acknowledge it as a behavioural addiction, which can cause as much detrimental impact on a person's life as a gambling addiction. Several studies done over time conclude that excessive cell phone usage can cause people active harm, such as declining mental health, reduced cognition, relationship problems and even financial loss.
One of the telltale signs of cell phone addiction is checking your phone repeatedly, 'just because'. In other words, there's no reason to check it or anything you particularly need to do on your phone, but you can't help it. The level of addiction is typically determined by how often a person picks up their phone impulsively.
Is phone addiction really all that bad?
If you previously thought that adverse health effects due to phone addiction were nothing but hype, this section should make you reconsider. Because there are some serious and very real negative consequences of long-term exposure to phone screens on both the body and mind.
1. Effects on the body
Several studies on different age groups and genders around the world have found that phone addicts tend to have lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of sleep disturbance. This leads to an increased risk factor for physical health problems like:
Low HDL cholesterol
And other cardiovascular diseases
Mobile devices transmit blue-enriched light. If you use your phone late at night, as many people do right before bed, the light from your screen can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and suppress melatonin (a sleep hormone). You might find it difficult to fall asleep and wake up later than normal. Your sleep quality will also be affected, with fewer hours of restful sleep overall. Of course, this leads to tiredness in the daytime and can impact your regular daily activities – work, school, etc.
Links have also been found between smartphone addiction and reduced amounts of grey matter in specific parts of the brain. (Grey matter controls functions like self-awareness, pain processing and speech comprehension.) The study states that it's unclear whether smartphone addiction caused a change in participants' brain structure or whether reduced grey matter made them more predisposed to excessive smartphone use. Either way, it's a scary observation.
Another physical effect associated with smartphone addiction is digital eye strain – prolonged exposure to screens causes dry, blurry and sore eyes, plus headaches. Then there's text neck, an informal name for excessive neck strain due to looking down at a mobile device for long periods.
2. Effects on the mind
Cortisol is a steroid hormone which plays a vital role in stress regulation. Too much screen time can lead to a cortisol surge, causing or increasing stress and anxiety. Other mental health conditions related to excessive screen usage and smartphone addiction include:
Feelings of loneliness
Impaired real-life relationships
Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and executive dysfunction (e.g. lack of focus or zoning out, a shrinking attention span, forgetfulness and procrastination)
Additionally, a study among Chinese college students identified a strong link between smartphone addiction and being at risk of eating disorders, particularly in males. There was also an association with poor eating habits and lifestyle. Worryingly, another research study highlighted that smartphone addicts experienced negative effects when their phones were restricted for 72 hours – similar to the withdrawal symptoms typically found with substance abuse.
Four common types of phone addiction
Phone addiction manifests through various online activities, such as engaging in social media, gaming, internet browsing and streaming entertainment content. Let's look at these addictive pursuits in more detail...
1. Socialising and social networking
Many smartphone users have access to social media and messaging apps like Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. They're interesting and exciting – we enjoy scrolling through our feeds for the latest updates from friends and funny memes to brighten our day. Although we might not admit it, we thrive off the reactions we get when we post something – the likes, comments, reactions and shares. It validates something we've done or are trying to do.
The problem with social media apps, however, is that they take advantage of the human tendency to chase dopamine. That feeling we get from positive social media interactions is similar to the anticipation of winning something when gambling – it makes the activity so appealing and easily addictive.
Then there are the constant notifications that ping up on our electronic devices, tempting us to quickly revisit the likes of Facebook or Instagram – to see new posts from people we follow, most of which aren't important or relevant, of course. But if we don't check, anxiety kicks in from not knowing what's happening while we're not online.
Gamification, even within regular apps that aren’t really related to gaming, can be highly addictive due to the reward system that it's based on. The use of game mechanics is effectively an online marketing technique that exploits our natural competitiveness – it’s just human nature to enjoy gameplay. Online gaming lets us play with friends, family and even entire groups of like-minded people we don't know.
If we want to get better at games, we need to keep moving through the levels and get power-ups, awards, bonuses, and little accessories for characters. Mobile gaming company, King, knows this – Candy Crush is one of its top titles, with over 14,000 levels as of 2023 and millions of players worldwide. If you've reached the great heights of Candy Crush's final level, this could be a red flag for excessive smartphone usage!
Ever had a question and decided to Google it online, only to go down a rabbit hole, clicking link after link and found yourself, two hours later, on a random website with no relevance to your initial query? You're not alone. The never-ending thirst for new information is officially recognised as information addiction – and it's easily fed because, with a smartphone, we're never far away from our internet browser.
Googling the name of the song that's playing in a cafe, what the active ingredients are in sunscreen, a comparison of prices for a random gadget you saw in a video... these are just some tidbits of information it seems vital to know when we can search it up in a matter of seconds. However, we're inclined to continually browse and don't realise where the time goes.
A fine example of this becoming a huge time suck is when you look up someone in the cast of a movie you've just watched. Before you know it, you've researched half the actors and their entire previous works, including their birthdays, ages, marital status, offspring and political beliefs! And you've spent hours of your life that you'll never get back on an activity that's served no real purpose (but might provide you with the winning answer in a trivia game).
If you get irritable if you don't have your phone with you and can't Google random questions right then and there, again, this is a sign your cell phone has got the better of you.
4. Short-form video watching
Finally, there are Facebook and Instagram Reels, TikToks and YouTube Shorts – videos lasting 10-15 seconds. They're designed this way so that they're instantly digestible and appeal to our short attention spans. Some are absolute rubbish, so we scroll endlessly for 'one more good video'. When we find one, we get that dopamine hit, much like receiving a reward. In reality, this leaves us unable to watch just one video at a time.
24 recent cell phone usage statistics and facts
Smartphone overuse is incredibly common, although there's no clear answer on what percent of people have phone addiction. In a survey conducted by Reviews.org this year, more than 50% of Americans admitted to feeling addicted to their smartphones. 75% of participants said they even use their phones on the toilet. Here are some other mind-blowing smartphone usage statistics:
In 2022, people in mobile-first markets spent over 5 hours per day on their phones.
In a recent poll of 2,000 smartphone users, 60% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cope more than a day without their phones. Moreover, 55% claim a dying battery is a 'nightmare scenario', and 27% completely rely on their phones for directions.
Mobile app downloads have been steadily increasing since 2016. In 2022, 255 billion mobile apps were downloaded worldwide; a 15 billion increase from the year prior.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, 90% of people reported they frequently carry their cell phones with them, the majority being 30 to 49 years old. Only 1% of all cell phone owners said they never had their phones on them.
A 2019 survey from global tech care company Asurion revealed Americans check their phones 96 times daily. This was a 20% increase from its 2017 survey. More recent research by Asurion suggests this number has almost quadrupled to 352 times a day as of 2022. Interestingly, Baby Boomer and Gen X respondents are no longer lagging behind: more than two-thirds think their phones are an absolute necessity – not merely a luxury or 'techy' gadget designed for the young.
SellCell.com reported that 12% of people have checked their phones while being intimate with their partners, and 42% check their phones at the dinner table.
Another Pew Research Center survey from 2021 found that 31% of adult Americans are now almost constantly online, and 85% said they go online at least once daily. 44% of adults under 50 were at the forefront of being digitally connected. Experts attribute this to the prevalent use of smartphones in this age.
According to the Digital 2023: Global Overview Report by DataReportal, 64.4% of the world’s population is now online, and out of these people, over 90% access the internet via their mobile phones. Here are some further facts and stats from this report:
YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp are the top three social apps with the most active users worldwide (excluding China).
Android phone owners spend, on average, 23.1 hours on YouTube and over 19 hours on Facebook every month. WhatsApp is the most used instant messaging app on Android, with more than 17 hours of monthly usage.
If you include China in this data, TikTok is the overall winner with 23.5 hours a month per Android user, beating YouTube just slightly.
Texting (including both SMS messaging and instant messaging) was the most popular activity for the average smartphone user between 2021 and 2022. Below is a ranked list of top smartphone activities from Statista:
Smartphone addiction: it's real
If your phone is never out of your hands for very long, the above phone addiction facts and statistics show that you're not alone. We're digitally connected more than ever before, using our phones for everything from messaging with friends to shopping and banking online.
However, there is such a thing as smartphone overuse and addiction, which can lead to negative physical and mental health effects. Try monitoring the time you spend on your phone (it should have a setting where you can check how often you open up your phone and how long you spend on apps). If you're worried about being on your phone too much, take regular breaks where you put your phone out of sight for an hour or two. You could also set time limits on your favourite apps to ensure you don't overuse them in a 24-hour period.
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