The transformation into the Information Age has fostered the creation of a knowledge-based society that influences the way we live and socially interact. While generally positive, the evolution has created issues as some individuals have become excessively dependent on technology.
For example, it is relatively common to know a person who appears incapable of living without the bright screen of their phone for more than a few minutes as they are constantly texting and checking out what friends are up to on social media.
New research examines this so-called antisocial behavior linked to smartphone addiction. In a provocative new study, researchers from McGill University posit that we may be looking at things the wrong way?
Could smartphone addiction be hyper-social, not anti-social?
Professor Samuel Veissière, a cognitive anthropologist who studies the evolution of cognition and culture, explains that the desire to watch and monitor others, but also to be seen and monitored by others, runs deep in our evolutionary past.
He explains that humans evolved to be a uniquely social species and require constant input from others to seek a guide for culturally appropriate behavior. This is also a way for them to find meaning, goals, and a sense of identity.
In the new study, to be published in Frontiers in Psychology, Veissière and Moriah Stendel, researchers in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry, reviewed current literature on dysfunctional use of smart technology through an evolutionary lens.
Saliently, they found that the most addictive smartphone functions all shared a common theme: they tap into the human desire to connect with other people.
While smartphones harness a normal and healthy need for sociality, Professor Veissière agrees that the pace and scale of hyper-connectivity pushes the brain’s reward system to run on overdrive, which can lead to unhealthy addictions.
Veissière believes addictions are often influenced by evolutionary forces — that our current post-industrial environment is different from settings in which we evolved. He gives the example of how current surplus’ of fat and sugary foods can lead to uncontrollable temptation as we are wired to take advantage of excess food capacity for in the distant past, this excess was often followed by deprivation. Therefore, we are genetically programmed to overindulge when the opportunity arises.
He believes the pro-social needs and rewards [of smartphone use as a means to connect] are similar, with the concerns of societal chaos overblown.
“There is a lot of panic surrounding this topic,” says Veissière. “We’re trying to offer some good news and show that it is our desire for human interaction that is addictive and there are fairly simple solutions to deal with this.”
He does believe some immediate actions may be beneficial to mitigate smart phone addiction such as such as turning off push notifications and setting up appropriate times to check your phone. Research suggests that workplace policies “that prohibit evening and weekend emails” are also important.
“Rather than start regulating the tech companies or the use of these devices, we need to start having a conversation about the appropriate way to use smartphones,” said the professor in a recent interview. Parents and teachers need to be made aware of how important this is.”
Steps to regain control over smartphone addictions :
- Relax and celebrate the fact your addiction reflects a normal urge to connect with others!
- Turn off push notifications and set appropriate times to check your phone intentionally.
- Create “intentional protocols” with friends, family, and work circles to set clear expectations on when to communicate
Source: McGill University