Smartphone 'addiction' making world 'mindless', warns psychotherapist

Giving or receiving a smartphone as a gift this Christmas should come with a mental health warning, according to a leading psychotherapist.

Some 91pc of the population owns a smartphone and checks it on average at least 50 times a day, according to the Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey (Ireland) 2019 published earlier this month.

Yet society’s ‘addiction’ to the smartphone is far more insidious than the use of seemingly harmless algorithms used to harvest your personal data to sell to advertisers or to spread ‘fake news’ and political propaganda, or otherwise digitally spy on you.

It’s actually taking over our lives and threatening the way we experience reality and view ourselves, according to Dr Colman Noctor, a child and adolescent psychotherapist at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Dublin.

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Although the word addiction, when describing excessive or obsessive use of smartphones, can be a red flag to some people, “there’s no doubt they are designed to keep you on them for as long as possible”, he told the Irish Independent. The very nature of certain apps and websites is intended to increase “that kind of sinkhole relationship”, he said.

“For me, the issue is we need time for ourselves. We see things like mindfulness being popular now when it wouldn’t have been in the 1980s,” he said.

“The world has become so mindless,” he said.

It is not just time that could otherwise be spent engaging with friends and family or taking part in hobbies or sports or other interests that is being wasted by constantly being plugged in, he said.

Adolescents and children experience ‘reality’ in the virtual world and not in the real world where they form memories from actual experience.

Instead of a child knowing what it feels – mentally and physically – to roll down a grassy hill, they will ‘experience’ the sensation online and believe they have actually done it, said Dr Noctor.

“They won’t draw a distinction between real and virtual experience,” he said.

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