iPhone Addiction is Our Problem, Not Apple’s

4 minute read
| Particle Debris

Does it feel as if you’re addicted to your iPhone? Do you think others, especially younger people, suffer from iPhone addiction?  Michael Gartenberg, at iMore, contributes to the discussion in helpful ways. “Frankenstein’s iPhone: Control, don’t be controlled.

iPhone addiction is our problem, not Apple's

This is a job for us, according to author Gartenberg. Don’t expect, he notes, Apple to do for us what we should be doing ourselves.

Smartphones are amazing. My iPhone improves nearly every facet of my life. From content creation to consumption. From communication to collaboration. It’s still just a tool. I don’t think we need Apple to find ways to control their creation. I think we should be able to get this one on our own.

My take on this is simple. If we’re doing useful, valuable things with our lives, making contributions, teaching, serving, volunteering, creating, or whatever, we’ll naturally use the iPhone as a tool to succeed. It’s when one’s life isn’t highly motivated and directed that it’s all too easy to turn to the iPhone as a crutch, and seek to fill a void. And then it becomes unfulfilling. That’s why the more young people use their smartphone, the more depressed they get. When used as an end in itself, it doesn’t satisfy. Something more is yearned for, and caving to one’s iPhone addiction isn’t the answer.

That last obervation isn’t just my opinion. It’s been studied, according to NPR. “The Risk Of Teen Depression And Suicide Is Linked To Smartphone Use, Study Says.

A new study found that teenagers are increasingly depressed, feel hopeless and are more likely to consider suicide. Researchers found a sudden increase in teens’ symptoms of depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates in 2012 — around the time when smartphones became popular, says Jean Twenge, one of the authors of the study.

Twenge’s research found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. And that’s regardless of the content consumed. Whether teens are watching cat videos or looking at something more serious, the amount of screen time — not the specific content — goes hand in hand with the higher instances of depression.

iPhone Addiction vs Life Goals

The iPhone was designed as a communications tool. But designers of iOS software have a vested interest in embroiling users deeper and deeper for financial gain. Games, photo services, and Facebook come to mind. And so, the prudent thing to do is ask: What am I doing? What’s my project and goal? Who am I helping? How can I use the iPhone as a tool to achieve my proper goals?

Every activity on the iPhone must be examined to determine if it meets that standard. That’s something we must do, not Apple.

Next Page: The News Debris for the week of May 14th. Demo, joy, despair, then analysis.

9 Comments Add a comment

  1. CudaBoy

    Addiction is YOUR problem, not ours: RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Seagrams, Annheuser-Busch; Pfizers; Merck ….. don’t even pretend Apple didn’t purposely imbed social media into every aspect of iOS (and even Mac OS) from chat to texting to mindless tweeting etc – NONE of this is essential to a mobile phone at the core. That’s why for decades I call Apple’s iOS things TOYS – because that’s what they are – addicting toys that have very little to do with real computing for business or the arts. Add to that Apple’s willful SANDBOX and you have a complete package made to control & contain a victim – I mean user. Shame on Apple for not building in some discipline into the hardware even though of course “guns don’t kill people – people kill people” – great argument John. Marketing and brand strategy have nothing to do with it – it’s all my fault….great. 🤷‍♂️

    • Lancashire-Witch

      My 2 pence worth – limit the use of social media. Better still, avoid it completely.
      As a Bishop, preaching in Windsor, UK on Saturday, said, it enables us to be socially dysfunctional with each other (or words to that effect).

      As to who’s fault it is; if you are intelligent enough to use an iPhone then you are intelligent enough to make good choices. It may be hard to prove cause and effect, but there are always consequences.

  2. geoduck

    Researchers found a sudden increase in teens’ symptoms of depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates in 2012 — around the time when smartphones became popular, says Jean Twenge, one of the authors of the study.

    A classic example of correlation NOT proving causation. A lot happened about that time. Social media (and cyber abuse) really took off in those years. General knowledge of climate change (and the fact the next generation will inherit the problems we aren’t dealing with) went up dramatically. We were starting to recover from the Great Recession, (and the next generation became aware of the poorer services and massive debt they would be inheriting). Looking at the state of the world I would be surprised if the next generation did NOT have “increased risk of depression, suicide risk factors, and suicide rates”.

    So no, phone addiction is not Apple’s problem. It is a symptom of a world where todays younger people are not seeing infinite possibilities, not having unlimited hope. Far far too many of them see only an environment, a political system, a world that has been broken and they have only a far poorer life with limited or no opportunities, to look forward too. Addiction, whether phone or fentanyl, are symptoms of far deeper problems..

  3. Ned

    I don’t recall the entire talk but Steve Jobs mentioned observing people using the iPod and the click wheel at ballparks, etc. His reference to a stylus (lack of) for the iPhone was that people carried one all the time, their finger. His observations and that of Apple engineers surely picked up on fidgeting, a human preoccupation to stave offf boredom and ignore the present moment. If nothing else, Apple had to have done research into compulsive behaviour when it came to the iPod, iPhone, Watch etc.

    Much of what has a smoker, especially of cigarettes in flip top boxes, fidget with the cigarette pack and cigarette lighter is behind the iPod, iPhone and Watch. That’s the whole idea behind the Fidget Widget – a mindless activity to calm the brain. Fidgeting is built into smartphones, tablets and watches.

    Apple and other manufacturers could be more open with their research. “Use of this device may be habit forming.” “Do not use this device while driving or operating heavy equipment.” If nothing else, they could work with psychologists to come up with some useful marketing, e.g:. “If you notice that your child seems obsessed with their device, perhaps a conversation is in order. This might be a sign of a more significant problem.” Some companies might fear their sales might drop off. This is where mental health as always, takes a back seat.

    If Apple is the sincere company that some expound it to be then it should take responsibility for the products it produces. And not just Apple, all manufacturers. COMPLETELY examine the user experience. Is this product in the best interests of humanity and the world? Could there be problems, not just with software or hardware but with how it’s used. AI, VR, AR, Autonomous Cars, Bump Stocks – all have serious implications for humanity and the world. The bottom line is it’s not just about the bottom line.

    • Goff256

      Why are we pushing this stupid narrative that smartphones are addictive and that Apple should do something about it? Smartphones are only habit forming because humans are creatures of habit and it’s the most useful device we have. Before this, it was MP3 players, or tape players, or CD players.

      And the idea that they should tell parents to be parents?

  4. wab95


    Beginning with your lede (or lead, if you prefer), Michael Gartenberg’s treatment of the iPhone is sensible, and makes a number of good points, beginning with the notion of ‘addiction’, and that what is often referred to addictive behaviour relative to the iPhone does not qualify by any clinical measure.

    Before going further, it is worth noting two things. (tl;dr most of what is described as addiction relative to the iPhone is not addiction; habit perhaps. On balance, the iPhone benefits most users)

    First, the word ‘addiction’ used by clinical professionals has specific meanings that meet a higher standard than that in popular use. What a therapist or physician intends by addiction refers to a condition of physical, physiological, or psychological dependence, typically involuntary, that modifies the subject’s behaviour to address and satisfy that dependence. The popular use, cited by public and press alike, often refers to behaviour that is either voluntary or habitual that suggests, but neither establishes or proves, dependence. An example of the latter is the reference to ‘addiction to oil’, in reference to our reliance on petroleum-based technologies, like automobiles. These two use cases of a common word are not in reference to the same thing; not even close, although they can be easily confused and lead to misclassification by those not using objective clinical criteria.

    Second, addiction is a complex subject, so much so that it has become a sub-discipline in the professional world, served by people who devote their entire lives to understanding and serving the needs of people who satisfy the criteria of addiction, of which there are numerous forms. To be clear, there is a phenomenon of technology-related addiction, gaming and online gambling being two notable examples, that has been described and accepted in professional circles. And, there has been work related to social media addiction, with studies that suggest that same dopamine feedback reward loop associated with other forms of addiction. I’m not aware of, neither do I discount, that there may indeed be a subpopulation that satisfies the criteria for ‘iPhone addiction’, but it would likely relate more to specific apps than to the device or its operating system, at least in my opinion.

    That said, one cannot, nor should we try to, discount the debilitating impact of maladaptive habits that diminish our time and capacity to engage in normal and important routine behaviours, and successfully address the challenges that everyone must face – like completing one’s education, obtaining and retaining employment, paying the bills and sustaining important relationships. Anything, including an iPhone, or for that matter, reading posts on TMO, can become a time-wasting distraction if taken to excess.

    To be sure, addiction and habit are both part of a larger tapestry of human behaviour and adaptation to stress, or put another way, our adaptive and maladaptive coping mechanisms in response to stress. No rational discussion on the subject has ever, to my knowledge, proposed a wholesale ban on any recreation or substance that has proved beneficial to a majority, despite a negative impact on a minority; but instead trying to understand how that minority is susceptible to a maladaptive relationship with that object, and how best to mitigate it. This is important because it both enables the majority to continue to derive the benefits of that object, while enabling us to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves by addressing the needs of those whose relationship is maladaptive.

    I see no justification as to why the iPhone should be treated any differently; unless one simply has a bias against Apple, the iPhone or smartphone writ large, or leans towards Luddism. The exception would be a product that is either designed to harm people (or a defined population), or to create a dependence. Modern clinical science can identify the latter.

    As the parent of now young adult children (yes, I appreciate the oxymoron, but I’m describing a relationship, not a state), no less than as a clinician, I appreciate the essential role of parenting in recognising aberrant and deleterious responses that can grow into maladaptive behaviours in our kids during their formative years, as well the signs and symptoms of true addiction, which is an entirely separate category of disorder. The former is an essential part of parenting to enable healthy growth, maturation and socialisation into productive adulthood. The second is about recognising and obtaining professional help for an illness.

    A quick comment on Google Duplex, I concur that Google’s response is suspicious, but if in fact they have run ahead of the tech, this will become apparent. Apple, MS and any others working on AI should avoid any hint of misleading if not false advertisement. The current generation of consumers will ferret it out in short order.

  5. archimedes

    I think the questions Apple (and others) should ask is – are these devices and apps making people’s lives better? How can we help people make good use of technology as well as their own time and attention?

    Human time and attention are finite resources, but iPhone apps, and social media sites, TV programs, video games, web sites, and many other things are often optimized to grab your attention and keep it for as long as possible, often in order to get you to watch advertisements and/or buy things. This can result in outcomes that users greatly and persistently regret, or that interfere with other important or necessary activities.

    I am completely in favor of Apple looking for ways to ensure that its devices are used in ways that people will agree are good uses of their time and won’t regret later.

    I think the “time well spent” approach could help users benefit more from their use of technology, and help developers to create more humane apps that are less intrusive and more aligned with our own goals and values:


  6. archimedes

    One epiphany I had about software occurred one day when a dialog box popped up on the screen of my (pre-notification manager) Mac reading something like:

    “Microsoft Word requires your attention.”

    My reaction was immediate and scathing:

    “No, Messrs. Gates/Ballmer/Jobs/et al., Microsoft Word DOES NOT REQUIRE my attention, and it never did! Exactly WHO do you think is in charge here anyway?? *I* require Microsoft Word to SHUT THE heck UP and stop bothering me!”

    As user of computing technology in 2018, you are assaulted by an seemingly endless list of annoying instances of appalling software insolence and arrogance where a piece of software interrupts you and tries to make you do something, or prevents you from doing something you want to do: pop-up windows; auto-playing videos; modal dialog boxes; video players that disable the fast-forward button during warnings and advertisements; web sites that disable cut/paste/password managers/open-in-tab/right-click/command-click/etc.; automatic “opt-in” to intrusive anti-privacy features and spam lists; slide-overs that ask you for your email address for some spam list; adtech tracking and ads that follow you creepily from one site to another; click-through end user license “agreements”; the list goes on… Often the default behavior is utterly obnoxious and highly undesirable for most humans but there is no easy way (sometimes no way at all) to disable the offending anti-feature!!

    This annoyware and creepware is serious rubbish that users are almost universally NOT asking for in any way. It is usually driven by monetization/greed though sometimes also by incorrect assumptions about what users actually want – and almost always without any input from the people who find it so obnoxious. I’m in favor of putting the user back in command of “personal” computers, tablets and smartphone, and getting rid of intrusive anti-features that seize control of your device and/or do something obnoxious, intrusive, or privacy-violating without your request or permission, and often without any way of changing the unwanted behavior.

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