What’s the Real Cost of Your Smartphone?

What’s the Real Cost of Your Smartphone?

I’ll be the first to admit it: I love my smartphone.

For many of us it's a lifeline—and a major expense. While the average cell phone costs around $20, the average smartphone starts at $200, and that's before you add memory, a data plan and optional insurance, to say nothing of the $56 in accessories the average user bought last year.

Despite that, a recent TIME survey found that 84% of respondents couldn’t go a day without their phones, 20% check their phones every 10 minutes, and 50% sleep with their phones next to them.

According to Dr. David Greenfield, one of the world’s leading experts on compulsive technology and smartphone use, and the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, the adoption of the smartphone has exceeded any previous technological adoption in the history of humankind.

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But is the smartphone costing you more than a big chunk of change? We took a closer look at the toll mobile technology is having on many marriages, kids, work productivity and even our safety.

Has Your Smartphone Taken Over?

Over half of moms in the United States say they are "addicted" to their smartphone, according to a 2011 BabyCenter report. The survey found that adoption of smartphones among moms has risen 64% in two years.

Anne, a mom of two boys in Chevy Chase, Maryland, says she is 100% dependent on her smartphone. “It’s my office,” says the real estate agent. “I check it probably every three to five minutes.”

Amy, a mom of two girls, from Hoboken, New Jersey, checks hers about eight times an hour. "I read the news on the USA Today app and the New York Times app and I Facebook, email and text. My girls are young and I never get to watch the news—the apps are how I keep up."

What’s the Big Deal?

It looks like our “quick” smartphone checks are leading to some pretty unhealthy behavior:

Car Safety

A new survey conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide and American Baby magazine found that 78% of moms with children under the age of two talk on the phone while driving, and 26% text and read emails.

It’s not just moms. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 27% of American adults admit to texting while behind the wheel, and 61% say they’ve talked on their phones while driving.

It may not seem dangerous, but texting while driving is the same as getting behind the wheel after knocking back four beers. That explains why this particular type of high-tech multitasking was involved in at least 23% of all car accidents in the U.S. in 2011.

Children’s Safety

We’ve all been “that mom staring at her phone” on the playground (or any public place). TIME reports that 35% of Americans “almost always” use their mobile devices while playing with their children.

The CDC recently released a study showing that injuries to young children had increased for the fourth straight year in 2011. There is speculation among experts that this rise in childhood injury could be related to technologically distracted parents, however there aren’t yet any formal studies on the subject.

Family Life

“The biggest issue is that it affects your family,” says Greenfield.

Amy is one of the 30% of Americans who admits that their smartphone has interfered with their relationship. She says she should probably institute some rules about her smartphone use, as she gets a lot of comments from her husband to “put the phone away.”

New research by Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, suggests that we are losing our biological ability to connect with one another.

New parents who text while breastfeeding or pay "more attention to their phone than their child—leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression,” she recently explained in an opinion piece in The New York Times.

That said, 65% of parents surveyed believe their smartphones make them better parents.

On the Job

According to Greenfield, there’s no such thing as multitasking. “Technology is very addictive and very distracting,” he says. “When you’re doing it, you’re not doing something else.”

A recent report from Randstad US shows that constant connectivity doesn’t mean increased productivity for female workers. The report found that while 42% of women believe it has become harder to disconnect from work while at home, 68% don’t believe that the blurring of lines has made them more productive.

Research shows that taking regular “predictable time off” (meaning planned, consistent time off) from your technology will actually increase efficiency, increase job satisfaction and improve work-life balance. Yet 91% of mobile workers are using their free time to check their smartphones.

What Should You Do?

According to Greenfield, our society hasn't really developed a good framework for limiting our tech time, which means it's up to you and your family to establish your own rules.

He suggests these simple steps to keep your phone from playing an outsized role in your life:

  • Model healthy digital use for your kids. “What we do is what they do,” says Greenfield. “You need to put the phone down.”
  • Set clear family rules about acceptable technology use (for instance, agree to keep technology away from the dinner table) and make sure everyone—especially you—understands and follows.
  • Institute “technology-free” times for part of the day/evening/weekend (vibrate does not count as “off”). For example, agree to be technology-free between 5 and 8 p.m.
  • Set clear boundaries for yourself. For example, you might decide not to pick up the phone while playing with or feeding your baby. I recently made a commitment to a loved one not to use my phone while behind the wheel—if I really need it, I'll pull over.

And you could also try these easy moves:

  • Delete your most distracting apps, whether social media, such as Instagram, or Angry Birds.
  • Set aside time when it's acceptable to catch up on emails and devote your full attention to your phone. Maybe it's during your child's nighttime television show.
  • Keep your phone out of the bedroom at night (there are links between technology use in bed and sleep disruption), and create a docking station well out of arm's reach where your family’s technology gets parked each night.

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