Addiction to communication

When I came across this story about a person getting killed in an attempt to retrieve a cellphone that had fallen on rail tracks, I was saddened but not surprised. Some people are really attached to their phones, seeing them as almost their lifeline to the rest of the world and feel lost and isolated if separated from it.

A study from Baylor and Seton Hall universities says that young adults typically send about 110 texts, receive 113 texts, and check their phones about 60 times a day. On average they spend about seven hours a day with interactive communication technology. This seems to me like shockingly high numbers. What could such a large number of messages contain? Are they merely chit-chat?

The article suggests that cell phone addiction may not be a passing youthful fad because it shares many features with other addictions. It is also positively correlated with materialistic consumer behavior and impulsiveness. You can read the full paper here. Other reports have noted the similarities between the rewards generated by cell phone use and gambling.

I consider myself to be addicted to the internet but not to cell phones. I spend a lot of time each day at the computer, writing and reading, and this often involves going to the web to read about news. But I almost never send or receive texts and hate talking on the phone. My preferred mode of communication with others is email, which I do not check until 10:00 am or so and then sporadically during the day.

But I don’t think that I have the symptoms of a genuine addiction. For example, last week I spent a lot of time on the road driving and did not feel any withdrawal symptoms of not being on the internet. In fact, I enjoyed the sense of isolation and solitude that driving affords. Very few people know my cell phone number and I would not answer it while driving anyway. I use the phone only for emergencies and to store my address book and calendar.


  1. slc1 says

    The only use of a mobile on a car trip is to use it to call for help in the event of a mechanical breakdown.

  2. jamessweet says

    Just a comment, the fact that the guy died is not necessarily symptomatic of communication addiction… I know if I lose my cell phone, I am going to pay full price for a replacement, because I use it for a lot of things, and I’m not due for a free upgrade for quite some time. So a lost or destroyed cellphone is probably going to cost me minimum $300 right now. iPhones are even more expensive.

    So we shouldn’t necessarily react differently than if the guy had dropped a wallet containing $500, and died trying to retrieve it. Still a dumb-ass move — doesn’t everybody know by now that the subway rails are electrified??? — but not necessarily a sign of the times or anything. I wager in the pre-cell phone era, there are plenty of people who would have jumped down into a subway track to retrieve $500…

  3. Thorne says

    I don’t understand the addiction to cell phones, either. I finally broke down and bought a $30 basic phone at Walmart about 3 years ago, so I could be available if my aging parents needed me. I pay $30 a month for basic service, and would go cheaper if I could. I get 1000 minutes and 1000 texts a month, and I rarely go over even 60 minutes a month, and most months my text messages are 0. I’ve decided that, should I ever ‘tweet’ anything I’m going to smash the phone and discontinue the service for good!

  4. Mano Singham says

    I can recommend a good deal for someone like you because I too use a cell phone only for emergencies. I have a T-Mobile prepaid service. Once you put $100 in it, you need to add only $10 per year to keep the service. I got a free old iPhone 3 from my daughter when she upgraded to a new one but this service is available for any cell phone.

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