If you haven't done it yourself, you've certainly seen it: A group of people at a social gathering who, instead of conversing with each other, are pecking away at their cell phones.

While this situation may sound strange, it's actually very common. A recent study in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing found that the typical smartphone user checked their phone an average of 34 times per day. What's more, many people who compulsively check their cellphones are unaware that they are doing it.

Why We're Obsessed

If you feel antsy when you haven't looked for a text, email, or missed call, there's a reason. Humans are creatures that thrive on positive reinforcement. When you expect to receive a new message or email, and do, it becomes a minor reward.  Subconsciously, you're given a reason to keep coming back. This results in an addictive trend in which you feel the need to look-even when you have no reason to expect a text or email. It's a theory that's akin to Pavlov's dogs.

Risks of a Cell Phone Obsession

Sure, it's easy to pass a cell phone addiction off as something that comes with the technological advances of the last 20 years; however, with cell phones come real risks.

1. The cancer threat. Although it has not been confirmed, according to the World Health Organization, radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer. The organization now categorizes cell phones in the same "carcinogenic hazard" grouping as lead.

2. An injury issue. A study conducted at Temple University's College of Health Professions and Social Work looked at the amount of text messages college students sent each day and the amount of neck and shoulder pain they experienced. As expected, researchers found that the more someone texts, the more pain they experience.

3. Dangerous driving. While many may find the banning of cell phone usage while driving inconvenient, there's good cause. In a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers who used cell phones while driving were four times more likely to have an accident than those who did not. What's more, the study found that using a hands-free device instead of a hand-held phone did not improve safety.

4. Sleep disturbances. Using a cell phone before bed can keep you awake, according to a study conducted by Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and researchers in Sweden. Conducted over an 18 month period, the study involved 35 men and 36 women between the ages of 18 and 45 and found that the radiation emitted by cell phones disrupted sleep patterns.

How to Shake the Obsession

Let's face it: quitting your cell phone completely isn't realistic. In a society that thrives on being in the know, removing your mobile device from your life will leave you isolated. That said, there are ways you can limit your use in a productive and practical way:

  • Leave your phone at home during social or family gatherings
  • Designate time when your cell phone is off limits
  • Shut your phone off after work hours
  • Limit your monthly plan to a certain amount of minutes and text messages
  • If all else fails, "forget" your phone periodically




National Cancer Institute
Cell Phones and Cancer Risk

Oulasvirta, Antti, Rattenbury, Tye, Ma, Lingyi, Raita, Eeva
"Habits make smartphone use more pervasive"

Pain in the Neck. Too Much Texting Could Lead to Overuse Injuries