As we grow older, we begin to adopt a routine. This commences from the earliest of ages – from when we learn to brush our teeth in the morning, to sleeping at a particular time at night. With the advent of modern technology, checking our phones has also become embedded in our everyday lives.

Many say this is an example of how anti-social we are all becoming. Never is this more evident than on the tube in London, as many travellers stare intently at their phones, as opposed to engaging in conversation. This phenomenon has been described as puzzling by many foreigners, so-much-so that one American man took matters into his own hands and created a badge labelled, “Tube chat?,” to get us talking! As expected, this was not received well at all, with a counter badge marked, “No chat please, we’re British,” being created.

With reports in the media focusing on smart phone addiction and its links to anti-social behaviour, many would say some action needs to be taken. Controversially, it has also been argued that phones have made humans more social, as we are able to communicate with individuals on the other side of the globe – an option previously unavailable to our ancestors. Although the population spends a great deal of time on their phones, this phenomenon may just be an example of how addicted we are to social interactions, further exemplifying the fundamental desire of humans wishing to connect with one another. This can be traced back through evolution: we have developed to become a distinctively social species that requires constant input, not only from our surroundings, but from other humans, to guide appropriate language and behaviour. Consequently, this enables humans to find a sense of identity and meaning, as well as creating a specific goal!

Following a review of literature on the dysfunctional use of smart technology, using an evolutionary perspective, Moriah Stendel and Professor Veissière from McGill University concluded the following: a mutual theme shared by the most addictive smartphone functions was the ability to tap into the desire of humans to connect with other humans! This is particularly evident with social media, where we wish to watch and monitor others, as well as be seen and monitored ourselves!

A healthy urge, or an unhealthy addiction?

This hyper-social behaviour which smartphones tend towards is argued to be somewhat important for normal and healthy needs of sociality. However, the pace and scale of this phenomena can result in an overdrive of the brain’s reward system – leading to an unhealthy addiction! One such example can be seen in our eating habits: following the industrial revolution, where food was made so abundant, and readily available, individuals began to crave sugars and fats, such that it has resulted in an insatiable overdrive, causing an increase in the rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Thus, the social rewards that can be attained through the use of smart-phones can similarly become unbalanced, producing an unhealthy environment of hyper-social monitoring.

Consequently, the answer is not found in the renunciation of your mobile phone! If you wish to control or reduce addictive tendencies, it is suggested that you could benefit from switching off push notifications and adopting a schedule of when to check your phone. Furthermore, research has also suggested that the common workplace policies of prohibiting evening and weekend emails are healthy, helping to control these hyper-social tendencies. Adopting small changes in your schedule can ensure you maintain the healthy social balance us humans require!