Nomophobia – or no mobile phone phobia – the onset of severe anxiety on losing access to your smartphone has been talked about for years. But in Asia, the birthplace of the selfie stick and the emoji, psychologists say smartphone addiction is fast on the rise and the addicts are getting younger.
A recent study surveyed almost 1,000 students in South Korea, where 72% of children own a smartphone by the age of 11 or 12 and spend on average 5.4 hours a day on them – as a result about 25% of children were considered addicted to smartphones. The study, to be published in 2016 found that stress was an important indicator of your likelihood to get addicted.
Smartphones are central to many societies but they have been integrated into Asian cultures in many ways: there is the obligatory “food porn” photograph at the beginning of any meal; in Japan it is an entire subculture with its own name – keitai culture.
Asia and its 2.5bn smartphone users provides a stream of phone-related “mishap news”, such as the Taiwanese tourist who had to be rescued after she walked off a pier while checking Facebook on her phone. Or the woman from China’s Sichuan province rescued by fire fighters after falling into a drain while looking at her phone.
They may make for slapstick headlines but in Singapore too the concern is that those most vulnerable are getting younger. With its population of just 6 million, it has one of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates. It also has specialists in digital addiction, a cyber wellness clinic and a campaign to see digital addiction be formally recognised.
“Youths lack that level of maturity, making it harder for them to manage smartphone usage as they don’t have self-control,” said Chong Ee-Jay, manager of Touch Cyber Wellness Centre in Singapore.
He has serious concerns about how young children behave when they get phones.
“They are readily available to very young children here as part of their school curriculum,” he said. In Singapore it is not uncommon for homework assignments to be set via WhatsApp. …
Many people will recognise the feeling of anxiety when the pocket feels strangely light but the difference here is that the phone becomes the focus of other problems and anxieties. The South Korean study also found that people who used their smartphones for social media purposes were more likely to get addicted.
The device is seen as the sole key to wider human contact. Vulnerable children and young adults can feel adrift and unable to connect to others without it. In some Asian societies, where students are set heavy and time-consuming homework tasks to complete on their own, the phone is the only connection to to friends, humour and sharing. So it can assume a disproportionate importance.
Are you addicted to your smartphone? Experts say these are some early warning signs:
Constantly checking your phone for no reason
Feeling anxious or restless at the thought of being without your phone
Avoiding social interaction in favour of spending time on your phone
Waking up in the middle of the night to check your smartphone
A decline in academic or work performance as a result of prolonged phone activity
Easily distracted by emails or smart apps