Daily Video

June 15, 2017

Do you control your phone or does your phone control you?

Smartphones constantly offer us an opportunity to spend time in a way that is more entertaining than reality and we are surrounded by people who are also constantly glued to their phones.

As we turn to our screens more and more, it is important to understand why modern society finds smartphones so addicting and the implications of this worldwide epidemic on our brains.

After reading the post, have your students download a tracking app such as Moment to monitor how many times they engage with their phone daily and how much time is spent on various apps and check out the lesson plan below.

  1. There are about one billion smartphone users in the world, and we check our phones an average of 150 times a day, or every six minutes.

  2. According to the Pew Research Center, young people from the ages of 18 to 24 exchange an average of 110 texts per day.

  3. Phone addiction has increasingly been recognized as a problem; studies have shown that many excessive phone checkers exhibit the same impulsive behavior as drug and alcohol addicts.

  4. Forty-six percent of smartphone users say that it is something that they “could not live without.”

  5. App developers work for companies whose business models are centered on engagement-based advertising, so they have an incentive to use psychologically persuasive techniques to convince people to spend a lot of time on their apps and to return the next day.

    • Tristan Harris is a former Google employee and founder of Time Well Spent, an organization calling for ethical design in tech products. He said that apps such as YouTube and Netflix consciously compete with sleep and time with friends for our time and attention.

  6. Our brains are wired for “seeking behavior,” or pursuing new and stimulating feedback from our environment. Technology developers engineer apps to capitalize on this basic instinct by encouraging repetitive feedback-seeking behaviors, such as checking for notifications, that keep users engaged.

  • The centers in the brain that release dopamine during “seeking behavior,” which brings on a pleasurable feeling, are most active in children and teenagers.

  • Our brains’ desires for constant stimulation and immediate gratification create a “compulsion loop,” leading us to need more digital stimulation to receive the same effect.

  • MRI scans of children who play 20 or more hours of video games per week look similar to the MRI scans of drug and alcohol addicts.

Evaluate your habits activity: Download a tracking app such as Moment to monitor how many times you engage with your phone daily and how much time is spent on various apps.

Check out the PBS NewsHour Extra Lesson Plan: Are Teens Addicted to Technology?


by Amanda Wilcox, PBS NewsHour Extra intern and sophomore at Wake Forest University.

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