Researchers analysed the increasing problem of digital addiction and what they found is more than a little concerning

Smartphones, tablets and computer screens – we spend our days looking at them, talking to them and touching them.

They increasingly consume our time, attention and money. We are addicted to our digital devices – or, more precisely, the digital experiences they give us.

An article published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, by SFU Beedie professor Leyland Pitt and his co-authors analysed the growing problem with digital addiction and how marketers and app developers contribute to this 21st-century phenomenon.

The side-effects of digital addiction

According to Prof Pitt, digital addiction is linked to:

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  • Promoting obesity
  • Sleeplessness
  • Increased anxiety
  • Decreased productivity
  • Relationship issues

It is also a factor in physical dangers related to distracted driving and walking.

Distracted walking is such a problem in China that mobile phone lanes have been implemented in a number of large cities for pedestrian safety.

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Texting while driving is like driving blindfolded

“Digital experiences, like social media, are linked to decreased productivity in the workplace and it’s already costing the U.S. economy $997 billion,” says Prof Pitt.

“Today, texting while driving is now six times more dangerous than drinking and driving, and it’s costing the Canadian economy $25 billion.”

This is according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) respectively.

Texting while driving is now six times more dangerous than drinking and driving

If you’re checking a text for just five seconds while driving at 90 km/h, you’ve basically travelled the length of a football field blindfolded. That’s incredibly dangerous and foolish when you put it into perspective,” says Prof Pitt.

The side effects of smartphone addiction

Apps are designed to be addictive

The researchers say marketers and app developers work together to create experiences that drive an insatiable desire for users to keep returning to their apps.

Companies achieve this by using various tactics such as the freemium model, gamification and making their app ubiquitous.

Anyone can become addicted

“It seems that digital addiction is impacting young adolescents the most, but that’s because they’ve grown up with digital devices,” says Pitt. “Addiction doesn’t know age. It can happen to anybody.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), there are similar neurological responses between compulsive social network sites use and addiction to substances.

In addition, the World Health Organisation recognises gaming addiction as a disease.

Possible policies to curb digital addiction

Here are a few of Leyland and his team’s recommendations on how to curtail this growing epidemic:

  • Warning labels for apps to prompt more conscious decision-making on the part of consumers, and reduce the automaticity often inherent to addiction.
  • Natural ‘stopping points‘ would mean that otherwise endless games and infinite scrolling would be punctuated by natural breaks, in the same way that books have chapters.
  • Disclosures in advertisements for digital products and services would have disclosures similar to those on food packaging, and could include explicit information on how much a company is making from a user’s attention and information.
  • Disclose the average cost of in-app purchases, and how much time consumers spend using these apps.

Source: Simon Fraser University via

3 Things we can all learn from people who don’t use smartphones or social media

Curb your reliance on digital devices

Don’t wait for governments to implement policies or developers to start caring, but rather make sure you have your own plans in place to curb your reliance on digital devices.

It could be as simple as deactivating the social media apps on your phone, putting your phone under your seat when driving so that you can’t reach it easily, or setting a ‘turn-off’ time in the evening for using digital devices.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.