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Your phone addiction is a myth

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One afternoon last April at a coffee shop deep in suburban Philadelphia, I overheard a curious conversation between what looked to be a teenager and her grandfather. They were discussing the impacts of social media, and the girl bemoaned how depressed it made her feel. As an iPhone ironically buzzed in her palm, she explained that she couldn’t get off social media “because all of my friends are there.”

The girl’s conflicted relationship with her phone may actually be quite typical among modern-day teens. In a 2017 article in The Atlantic, psychologist Jean Twenge describes post-millennial teens as a generation nearly destroyed by smartphones. She writes that, in the age of Snapchat and Instagram, chat apps and social media have all but displaced young people’s real-life social interactions. Teens hang out with their friends less often than millennials did, they go on dates less frequently, and they are having less sex. They are statistically more likely to feel left out, lonely, and depressed—though these are, admittedly, correlations that don’t necessarily demonstrate causation.

It has become commonplace for media outlets to talk about this dark side of technology using the language of addiction. In a Washington Post op-ed earlier this year, for instance, psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee called on mental health professionals to recognize the bleak reality of “tech addiction.” In his New York Times column, Kevin Roose wrote about his “phone problem,” and how it had broken his brain. Parents and teens often signal their unhappiness with the amount of time spent online by framing the issue as smartphone addiction.

But to me, the confession from the girl in the Philadelphia coffee shop did not sound like that of a social media addict. Rather, it was a telltale sign of a powerful social norm in action. The distinction is critical: Whereas addiction........

© Fast Company