Are We Addicted To Distraction??

We have shifted into a new age where almost anything and everything can be done online or on a computer. Smartphones, for example, are a critical part of communication for a large percentage of society and their value will only increase over time. This is partially due to the fact that smartphones are now equipped with dozens of features that take the place of other items a person may need everyday. They can tell time, provide directions, take photographs, record video, allow you to play games and are small enough to bring EVERYWHERE. It is not difficult to see how the smartphone, as well as other similar items such as MP3 players and tablets, have become essential items for the average person. But is there a point at which using these products can become more harmful than helpful to a person? I say yes!

Because these gadgets have become so ingrained as a part of our lives, people are having a harder and harder time separating them from other important tasks such as…. DRIVING!! It seems as though people are already devoting less attention to driving than ever before in large part because of all the new technology available in newer vehicles. There are cameras that look behind your vehicle when you’re reversing so you don’t have to, automatic braking so you can stop in time when you aren’t looking and a signal that frantically beeps at you just in case you hadn’t noticed that you were crossing over into another lane. So now that cars basically drive themselves, people have even more of an excuse to continue the bad behavior of using their phones in their cars. We have become extremely dependent on our smartphones and – what’s even more alarming – the virtual communities we’ve created through the use of social networking. We are so focused on what is happening in the virtual world that we have been neglecting important tasks and sadly forgoing participating in “real” life all together. 

mobile11Although the internet had already been around for a few decades at this point, the push towards a more cybernetic society really started in the mid 2000s. The original iPhone from Apple hit the stores in the summer of 2007 with the launch of the App Store coming a year later. Within a week of opening, there were 10 million application downloads for the App Store and in as little as two months, that number jumped to over 100 million (1). Over the course of the next year, Fitbit bracelets, the Android Market (Google’s equivalent of the App Store), WhatsApp (an instant messaging app) and the Angry Birds game were all launched one after the other, with the focus being on keeping consumers happy and maintaining the outrageous demand for these products. In present day, roughly 25,000 new apps are released online every single month (6). With the rapid and ever-growing success of this market, it is definitely safe to say that this is our new normal. So what would cause someone who is reaping the substantial benefits of this mass consumerism to decide that the popularity of these apps was in fact, a bad thing?

In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Dong Nguyen, the creator of the mobile app game Flappy Bird, discusses his reasoning behind his surprising choice to remove his game from the web. Nguyen explains in the article that comments users of the game posted to their social media accounts were troubling to him (6). He said that users were angry with him for creating such an addictive game, using phrases like “distracting” and “addicting like crack” to describe Flappy Bird (6). It is interesting that these individuals had enough clarity to realize that their use of Nguyen’s game was harmfully effecting their lives but were still unable to refrain from playing the game. Despite the fact that he was raking in $50,000 per day, Nguyen couldn’t reconcile in his mind the distress that Flappy Bird appeared to be causing so he inevitably chose to take it down (6). Now, how does something like that translate to a person who is very active within their Facebook community or uploading a lot of selfies? How can a person judge for themselves whether they have crossed the threshold into addictive behavior?

Identifying Addictive Behavior in Internet/Social Media Usage

To some, the idea that a person can be addicted to the internet or to social media in the same way they can be addicted to alcohol or drugs seems far-fetched. Behavioral researchers believe that an addiction can be formed to anything that produces stimulation in an individual. This can include various behaviors such as excessive exercise, compulsive criminal activity or overeating (8). According to the work of Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut, technology addiction is a very real condition and should be treated with the same seriousness of any other addiction. In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Dr. Greenfield explains that the “hallmark of addiction” is at the point that control is lost (3). If a person is incapable of not using their smartphone despite the fact that it is causing harm in their life, they may have developed a dangerous dependency. Within the discipline of Psychology, technology addiction has been formally recognized as a disorder by the American Psychological Association although it is


Photographer: Antoine Geiger,

not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a handbook for professionals in the mental health field (2). The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders categorizes technology addiction as a process addiction, which means the addiction is to a particular activity or behavior. This differs from substance addiction, where a person is addicted to cigarettes or prescription medication. Other examples of process addiction include addictions to shopping or gambling (4). One of the most common misconception about technology addiction is that a large majority of people believe that spending a lot of time on the internet or on social networking sites is the main symptom of the disorder. However, a more true identifier of a possible addiction is the way that the time spent on the internet is impacting your day-to-day life (5). Engaging in the behavior as a means of self medication (excessive social networking to cope with depression) or avoidance of someone or something are both indications of a larger issue (spending hours in virtual realities to avoid anxiety triggered by social interactions in actual reality). Other symptoms can include negligence of social relationships or responsibilities, moodiness in direct relation to the source of addiction and changes in sleep patterns or restlessness (8).

We as a society have developed this inclination to over-share and social media makes it easy to do so. The ideology that we need an audience for anything and everything we do, whether it’s getting coffee, going for a hike, or buying new shoes, is in large part why Snapchat, Instagram and reality TV shows are so successful. Ironically, the use of all these social media applications gives a person the illusion that they are even more connected because they are always “plugged in” when in reality it can really have the opposite effect. Each time our smartphone buzzes with a new notification, this acts as a positive reinforcement to this learned behavior of over-sharing, or in other words, a variable that encourages the behavior to continue. The rewards we receive in the form of likes or comments act as a stimulant and leads to the release of “feel good” chemicals in our brains. This positive feedback is exciting to us and alters our mood. Each time we check our phones or scroll through our feeds, we are trying to bring back those positive feelings and it eventually becomes harder to resist the little flashing notification light. On the other side of that, a person can experience negative reactions to not being able to use their smartphone or access their social networking apps. The anxiety and irritation some individuals feel when this happens represents the withdrawal process, much like that of a dependent user of drugs or alcohol. 

Quick test: how many times have you looked at your phone without even thinking about it to see if you had any notifications, despite the fact that you were just using your phone not more than a minute before? And, how many times did you feel disappointed – even slightly – when you didn’t have any new messages or notifications? I know I’m guilty! 

Distracted Driving Statistics for Connecticut for 2015 *

It is important to remember that the large majority of individuals probably do not fit the criteria of having a technology addiction. However, many people are guilty of excessive usage of the internet, their smartphones and social media and would admit as much themselves. Connecticut law enforcement is now able to collect information about distracted driving crashes around the state. This is what the data is telling us:

A total of 7,472 distracted driving crashes occurred around Connecticut in 2015. This accounts for about 7% of all crashes for that year. Distracted driving crashes represent 4% of all fatal crashes and 9% of all injury crashes. 000802ab80450a621ba425

  • Many drivers involved in these crashes (38%) were said to be distracted by something inside of their vehicle other than a passenger or an electronic device such as eating, personal grooming or a pet.
  • Thirty percent of the distracted driving crashes occurred during the months of May, June and July. 
  • Twenty-six percent of distracted driving crashes occurred during the hours of 3-5 p.m.
  • Drivers age 17 -30 were involved in the largest number of distracted driving crashes (40%).
  • When broken down by gender, Female motorists were involved in 42% of crashes and Male motorists were involved in 55%. 
  • Passenger cars and SUVs were the two most common vehicles types involved in these crashes, representing 66% and 20% respectively.


*All data from the Crash Data Repository is subject to the information available on the PR-1 crash report, which is collected by law enforcement at the scene of a motor vehicle collision. 

Distracted Driving Opinions Nationwide

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released a report of a national climate survey they conducted about prevalent traffic safety issues, one of them being distracted driving. Responses were collected from a random sampling of 3,405 individuals age 16 or older from across the country. The report identifies a reoccurring theme from previous years surveys that continued in 2015. Drivers report wanting a much safer traffic environment and correctly identify certain risky driving behaviors as unsafe but also state that they have recently engaged in those behaviors themselves. Despite the fact that 55.7% of drivers consider talking on the phone in the car to be “a very serious threat to their personal safety”, roughly 70% stated that they had done so within the last 30 days (7). Whats more, 88% said they would support laws that prohibited reading, typing, or sending texts and emails while driving but 1 out of every 3 respondents said they had typed or sent a text/email while driving in the last 30 days. Not surprisingly, the majority of drivers (83%) think that they are more careful than other drivers on the road and display an overconfidence in their abilities (7).  

Internet/Social Network Usage Self-Assessment Quiz**

The 11 question quiz below asks you to evaluate your usage of four popular social networking applications and your smartphone. Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly:

  1. Which social networking applications do you use?
    1. Facebook
    2. Twitter
    3. Instagram
    4. Snapchat
    5. Two or more of the above
  2. How long have you been using your applications?
    1. less than a year
    2. 1-3 years
    3. more than 3 years
  3. How many times do you use these applications within an hour?
    1. 1-3 times
    2. 4-6 times
    3. 7-12 times
    4. more than 12 times
  4. How important are the applications you use in your life?
    1. very unimportant
    2. unimportant
    3. neutral
    4. important
    5. very important
  5. When you do not have access to these applications or your smartphone, how often do you feel irritated, uncomfortable or anxious?
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Almost Always
  6. When you forget your smartphone at home or the battery dies, do you ever feel a sense of relief?
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Almost Always
  7. When your smartphone receives a notification from these applications, how intense is your urge to check them?
    1. Very intense
    2. Somewhat intense
    3. A little intense
    4. Not at all intense
  8. When stopped at a traffic light, how often do you use that as an opportunity to check your smartphone?
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Almost Always
  9. How often do you use your phone while performing another task (ex: using the restroom or watching a movie)?
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Almost Always
  10. The last time you had lunch/dinner/drinks with a friend, where was your smartphone usually?
    1. In my hands for (selfies, updates, games…etc.)
    2. On the table next to me or in my pocket
    3. In my purse/put away
    4. In the car/at home
  11. Have you been called out at a social gathering or during a work event for using your smartphone at an inappropriate time with in the last six (6) months?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Yes, but more than six (6) months ago
    4. Never

How did you do? Did your responses surprise you or perhaps reveal that it may be time to reevaluate how much time you spend “plugged in”? Remember, it can only be helpful to be honest with yourself about your behavior. If you feel that your smartphone usage or social networking is excessive but you’re not sure how to begin changing that, a good place to start could be to restrict your usage to outside of work or outside of your vehicle. Regardless of if you exhibit healthy or extreme habits in terms of technology usage, if you are doing so while operating a vehicle that on its own is dangerous and potentially deadly behavior. 

**this survey is intended for personal reflection by the participant ONLY. Any responses to this survey are not indicative of a diagnosis of technology addiction or any mental disorder and should not to be used to make any clinical determinations about an individual’s mental state.


  1. Cohen, D. (2015). Infographic: The History of Mobile Apps. Accessed Feb 2016.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2014). Internet Gaming Disorder. Accessed Mar 2016.
  3. Heid, M. (2016). You Asked: Am I Addicted to My Phone? Visited Mar 2016.
  4. Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. (2016). Internet Addiction Disorder. Accessed Mar 15, 2016. 
  5. Greenfield, D. (2013). The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. Accessed Mar 2016. 
  6. Kushner, D. (2014). The Flight of the Birdman: Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen Speaks Out. Rolling Stone Magazine. Accessed Mar 16, 2016. 
  7. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. (2016). 2015 Traffic Safety Culture Index. PDF file.
  8. Alavi, S. S., Ferdosi, M., Jannatifard, F., Eslami, M., Alaghemandan, H., & Setare, M. (2012). Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views. International Journal of Preventative Medicine, 3(4), 290–294.

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