The problem with mobile phones

New Australian research highlights the increasing risk of “technoference’” – the disruptive impact of mobile phones.

Nearly a quarter of women surveyed and 15% of men could be classified as problematic mobile users, the researchers say. That jumps to 40.9% for the 18-to-24 age group.

And it’s a rapidly escalating problem.

The researchers, led by Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety at Queensland University of Technology, surveyed 709 people aged 18 to 83 in 2018, using questions replicated from a similar survey in 2005.

They then compared the findings and discovered significant increases in people blaming their phones for everything from losing sleep to becoming less productive or taking more risks while driving.

Today 19.5% of women 11.8% of men say they lose sleep due to the time they spend on their mobile phone, compared with just 2.3% and 3.2% respectively in 2005.

One in eight men say their productivity has decreased as a direct result of the time they spend on their mobile – compared to none in 2005.

“When we talk about technoference we’re referring to the everyday intrusions and interruptions that people experience due to mobile phones and their usage,” Oviedo-Trespalacios says.

“Our survey found technoference had increased among men and women, across all ages.”

Other notable – and troubling – findings were that:

• 14% of women (3% in 2005) and 8.2% of men (3.2%) try to hide the amount of time they spend on the phone;

• 8.4% of women (3%) and 7.9% of men (1.6%) have aches and pains they attribute to mobile phone use;

• 25.9% of women (3.8%) and 15.9% of men (6.5%) say there are times when they would rather use their mobile phone than deal with more pressing issues; for the 18-to-25 aged group, it’s 51.4% (10.5%).

Somewhat surprisingly, the number of people who say they find it difficult to switch off their phone has remained fairly constant.

The researchers note that 88% of Australians own a smartphone – one of the highest penetration rates in the world.

“The speed and depth of smartphone take-up in Australia makes our population particularly vulnerable to some of the negative consequences of high mobile phone use,” Oviedo-Trespalacios says.

“Rapid technological innovations over the past few years have led to dramatic changes in today’s mobile phone technology, which can improve the quality of life for phone users but also result in some negative outcomes.

“These include anxiety and, in some cases, engagement in unsafe behaviours with serious health and safety implications such as mobile phone distracted driving.”

The findings are reported in a paper in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

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