Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone, Social Media, and More?


Back in 1998, I remember receiving my first second-generation (2G) mobile assignment at telecommunications vendor Nortel: a bid for Hutchison in Australia, a small alternate operator. At that time, I had already grown accustomed to modeling network traffic on traditional voice networks and was beginning to look at the impact of the Internet on data network dimensioning. In Australia, we were still relying on the public switched telephone network to dial up the Internet from homes, the Integrated Services Digital Network in small-to-medium enterprises, and leased lines for larger corporates and the government. But modeling mobile traffic was a different affair.

Figure 1. Russia’s Safe-Selfie campaign flyer.

Back in 1998, I remember receiving my first second-generation (2G) mobile assignment at telecommunications vendor Nortel: a bid for Hutchison in Australia, a small alternate operator. At that time, I had already grown accustomed to modeling network traffic on traditional voice networks and was beginning to look at the impact of the Internet on data network dimensioning. In Australia, we were still relying on the public switched telephone network to dial up the Internet from homes, the Integrated Services Digital Network in small-to-medium enterprises, and leased lines for larger corporates and the government. But modeling mobile traffic was a different affair.

I remember thinking: how will we begin to categorize subscribers, and what kinds of network patterns could we expect in mobility? I recall beginning to define the market segments into four categories, which included security (low-end users), road warriors (high-end corporate users), socialites (youth market), and everyday users (average users). Remember, this was even before the rise of the Wireless Application Protocol. As naysayers said that the capital expenditure spent on 2G networks would be prohibitive and that investments would never be recouped for decades, subscribers’ usage rapidly increased with devices like the Research in Motion Blackberry, which allowed for mobile e-mail.

Fast-forward to 2000. I was already knee-deep in thirdgeneration (3G) mobile bids, predicting the cost of 3G spectrum in emerging and developed markets, increasing my categories of subscriber types from four to nine segments, and calculating upload and download rates for top mobile apps like gaming, images (photos and imaging), and e-mail with chunky PowerPoint attachments and other file types. We knew what was coming was big, but perhaps we ourselves sitting on the coalface didn’t realize what a big impact it would actually have on our lives and the lives of our children. Our models showed average revenues per user of US$120 per month for corporates. At the time, most of us believed the explosion that would take place in the coming decade (but not as big as it turned out to be), despite preaching the mantra that voice is now just another bit of data. In calculating pricing models, we brainstormed with one another: who would spend over 100 min on a mobile? Or who would spend hours gaming on a handset rather than a larger gaming console?

Enter social media, enabled by this wireless Internet protocol (IP) revolution and the rapid increase in diverse mobile hardware from netbooks to tablets to smartphones and smartwatches. Then things rapidly changed again. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and WeChat are all enjoyed by social media users (consumers and professionals) around the globe today, and it is estimated that there will be 2.67 billion social network users by 2018 [1]. Over one-third of consumers worldwide, more than 2.56 billion people, will have a mobile phone by 2018, and more than half of these will have smartphone capability, making feature phones the minority [2].

The Social Media Boom

When Google announced that a staggering 24 billion selfies were uploaded to its servers alone in 2015, consuming 13.7 petabytes of storage space, I stopped and contemplated the meaning of these statistics [3]. What about the zillions of selfies uploaded to Apple’s iCloud, posted to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter? It means that in one’s average lifetime, most people are taking at least one selfie a day and sharing their image publicly. This figure is much higher for the impressionable teen market, with a 2015 Google study reporting that youth take, on average, 14 selfies and 16 photos or videos, check social media 21 times, and send 25 text messages per day [4]. This number continues to grow steadily, according to fresh evidence by Pew Internet Research [5], and is now even impacting workplace productivity [6]. In the same year that Google announced the selfie statistics, Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs began a Safe-Selfie campaign [7], stating: “When you take a selfie, make sure that you are in a safe place and your life is not in danger!” (Figure 1). This was followed, of course, by the acknowledged deaths that had occurred while younger and older individuals were in the process of taking selfies, and the rate of frequency outnumbered shark attacks in 2015 [8]. One cannot fathom.

Noticeable is the adoption of high-tech gadgetry, especially in the childhood to youth markets, with an even greater penetration by teenagers and individuals younger than 34 years. It is rather disturbing to read that 24% of U.S. teens go online “almost constantly” [5], facilitated by the widespread penetration of smartphones and increasing requirement of tablets in the secondary education system. The sheer affordability of tech gear and its increasing multifunctionality now means that most people have digital Swiss Army knives at their disposal with a smartphone. By accessing the Internet via your phone, you can upload pictures, browse websites, navigate locations on maps, and be reachable any time of the day. The allure of how to kill time while waiting for appointments or in public transportation means that most people are frequently engaged in some form of interaction through a screen. The short-lived Google Glass was a hands-free solution that would have brought the screen right up to the eye [9], but while momentarily halted, one can envisage a future where we are seeing everything through filtered lenses. Google Glass Enterprise edition is now on sale [35]!

The Rise of Internet Addiction

Experts have tried to quantify the amount of time being spent on screens, specific devices (smartphones), and even particular apps (e.g., Facebook), and have identified guidelines for various age groups for appropriate use. Most notable is the work started by Dr. Kimberly Young in 1995 when she established her website and clinical practice, the Center for Internet Addiction. She has been conducting research on how the Internet changes people’s behavior. Her guideline “3-6-9-12 Screen Smart Parenting” has gained worldwide recognition [10].

Increasingly, we are hearing about social media addiction stories (see “Social Media Addiction” [11] and “Mental Health and Social Media” [36]). We have all heard about the toddler screaming for his or her iPad before breakfast and gamers who are reluctant to come to dinner with the rest of the family (independent of gender, age, or ethnicity) unless they are instant messaged. There is a growing complexity around the diagnosis of various addiction behaviors. Some suffer from Internet addiction broadly, while others are addicted to computer gaming, smartphones, and even social media. It has been postulated by some researchers that most of these modern technology-centric addictions are age-old causes, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, but they have definitely been responsible for triggering a new breed of what I consider to be yet-to-be-defined medical health issues.

In the last five years, especially, much research has begun in the area of online addiction. Various scales for Internet addiction have been developed by psychologists, and there are even scales for specific technologies now, like smartphones. The South Koreans have developed the Smartphone Addiction Scale, Smartphone Addiction Proneness Scale, and the KS-scale, a method for Koreans to self-report Internet addiction using a short-form scale. Unsurprisingly, these scales are significant for the South Korean market, given it is the world leader in Internet connectivity, having the world’s fastest average Internet connection speed with roughly 93% of citizens connected. It therefore follows that the greater the penetration of highspeed Internet in a market, the greater the propensity for a subscriber to suffer from some form of online addiction. There are even scales for social media applications, e.g., the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS) developed by Dr. Cecile Andraessen at the University of Bergen in Norway in 2012 (see “BFAS Survey Statements” [12]).

Accessible Internet Feeds the Addiction

Despite its remoteness to the rest of the world, Australia surprisingly does not lag far behind the South Korean market. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2013, 94% of Australians were Internet users, but regional areas across Australia do not enjoy the same high-speed access as in South Korea, despite the National Broadband Network initiative that was founded in 2009, with the actual rollout beginning in 2015. Yet, alarmingly, one recognized industry report, “Digital Down Under,” stated that 13.4 million Australians spent a whopping 18.8 h a day online [13]. This statistic has been contested but commensurately backed by Lee Hawksley, managing director of ExactTarget Australia, who oversaw the research. She has gone on record saying, “...49% of Australians have smartphones, which means we are online all the time…from waking to sleep, when it comes to e-mail, immersion, it’s even from the 18–65s; however, obviously with various social media channels the 18–35s are leading the charge.”

According to the same study, roughly one-third of women living in New South Wales are spending almost two-thirds of their day online. And it is women who are 30% more likely to suffer anxiety as a result of participating in social media than men [14]–[16]. This is even greater than the Albrecht and Michael deduction of 2014, which estimated that people in developed nations are spending an average of 69% of their waking life behind the screen [17]. That is about 11 h behind screens out of 16 waking hours. But, no doubt, people are no longer sleeping 8 h with access to technology at arm’s reach within the bedroom, and, as a result, cracks are appearing in relationships, employment, severe sleep deprivation, and other areas as a result of screen dependencies [18].

It is difficult to say what kinds of specific addictions exist in relation to the digital world, and various countries identify market-relevant scales and measures. While countries like China, Taiwan, and South Korea acknowledge there is something called “Internet addiction” as a diagnosed medical condition, other countries, e.g., the United States, prefer not to be explicit about the condition, such as in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V) [19]. Instead, a potential new diagnosis, Internet gaming disorder, is dealt with in an appendix of the DSM-V [20], [21]. Generally, Internet addiction is defined as “the inability of individuals to control their Internet use, resulting in marked distress and/or functional impairment in daily life” [22]. Some practitioners have likened online addiction as being akin to substance-based addiction. Usually it manifests predominantly in one of three quite separate but sometimes overlapping subtypes in an individual: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations [23], and e-mail/text/social media messaging [24].

Shared Data and the Need to Know

For now, what has been quantified and is well known is the amount of screen time spent by individuals in front of multiple platforms: Internet-enabled television (e.g., Netflix), play stations (for video games), desktops (for browsing), tablets (for pictures and editing), and smartphones (for social media messaging). Rest assured, the IP-enabled devices we are enjoying are passing on our details to corporations, who in the name of billing now accurately know about our family’s every move, digitally chronicling our preferences and habits. It is a form of pervasive social and behavioral biometrics, allowing big business to know app-by-app your individual thoughts. What is happening to all this metadata? Of course, it is being repurposed to give you more of the same, generating even more profit for interested businesses. For some capitalists, there is nothing wrong with this calculated engineering. Giving you more of what you want is the new mantra, but it does have its side effects, obviously.

The Australian Psychological Society issued its “Stress and Wellbeing in Australia” report last year, which included a section on social media fear of missing out (FOMO) [25]. Alongside FOMO, we also now have a fear of being off the grid, or FOBO, and the fear of no mobile, or NoMo [26]. I personally know adults who will not leave their homes in the morning unless they have watched the top ten YouTube videos of the day or won’t go to sleep until every one of those last e-mails has been answered and placed in the appropriate folder and actioned. Screen times are forever increasing, and this has come at the expense of physical exercise and one-toone time with loved ones.

There are reports of men addicted to video games who cannot keep a nine-to-five job, there are women suffering from depression and anxiety because they compare their online status with that of their peers, there are children who message on Instagram throughout the night, and there are those who are addicted to their work at the expense of all physical relationships around them. Perhaps most disturbingly are the increasing cases of online porn exposure by children between the ages of 9 and 13 years in particular [27], cybersexual activities in adolescence, or extreme social-media communities that spread disinformation. If it’s being conducted virtually, then it must not be real, with no physical repercussions; but far from it, online addictions generate a guilt that remains and is hard to rid. This is particularly true of misdemeanors published to the websphere that can be played back, disallowing individuals to forget about their prior actions or break out of stereotypes [28].

A New Tool: The AntiSocial App

FIGURE 2. The app AntiSocial measures the number of unlocks. (Image courtesy of BugBean.)

Endless pings tend to plague smartphone users if their settings have not been tweaked for anything but a default [29]. Notifications and alerts are checked while users are driving (even if it is against the law to text and drive), in the middle of a conversation, in bed while being intimate, while using the restroom, or even while taking a shower. But no one has ever measured the end-to-end use through actual surveying of digital instrumentation in an open market setting. It has been left to self-reporting mechanisms or applications that  have run on a desktop that might monitor how long workers use various work applications or are on e-mail or closed surveying of populations participating in trials. But manual voluntary audit logs are often incomplete or underreport actual usage, and closed trials are not often representative of reality. At best, we can point to the South Korean smartphone verification and management system that has helped to raise awareness that such a system is needed for intervention [30]. And yet, the concern is so high that we can say with some confidence that it won’t take long for companies to come out with socially responsible technologies and software to help us remain in the driver’s seat with some confidence.

FIGURE 3. AntiSocial measures app usage in minutes, allowing the user to limit or block certain apps based on a predefined consumption. (Image courtesy of BugBean.)

Enter the new app called AntiSocial, created by Melbourne, Australia, software company BugBean, which has consumer interests at heart [31]. has taken the world by storm and has been downloaded on GooglePlay by individuals in over 150 countries within just a few months. The fact that it ranked number three on the U.K. GooglePlay downloads after only a few days demonstrates the need for it. It will not only accurately record usage in multiple application contexts but also encourage mindfulness about usage. AntiSocial does not tell users to stop using social media or stop video gaming for entertainment, but it reminds people to consider their digital calorie intake by comparing their behaviors with other anonymous users in their age group, occupation, and location. It is not about shaming users but raising individual awareness and wasting less time. We say we are too busy for this or that, and yet we don’t realize we are getting lost and absorbed in online activities. How do we reclaim some of this time [32]?

It may well be as simple as switching off the phone in particular settings, deliberately not taking it with you on a given outing, or having a digital detox day once a week or once a month. It might be taking responsibility for the length of screen time you have when you are away from the office or using AntiSocial to block certain apps after a self-determined amount of time has been spent on the app on any given day [33]. Whatever your personal solution, taking the AntiSocial challenge is about empowering you, and letting you exploit the technology at your fingertips without it exploiting you.

The AntiSocial App will Help

FIGURE 4. AntiSocial benchmarks smartphone app usage against others in the same age group, occupation, and location. (Image courtesy of BugBean.)

Some of the social problems that arise from smartphone and/ or social media addiction in particular include sleep depravity, anxiety, depression, a drop in grades, and anger management issues. AntiSocial provides a count of the number of unlocks you perform on your handset (Figure 2) and tells you in minutes how long you use each application (Figure 3), including cameras, Facebook and Instagram, and your favorite gaming app. It will help you to compare yourself against others and take responsibility for your use (Figure 4). You might choose to replace that time spent on Facebook, e.g., with time walking the dog, helping your kids with their homework, or even learning to cook a new recipe [34]. There is also a paired version that can be shared between parents and their children or even colleagues and friends. You might like to set yourself a challenge to detox digitally, just like you might do at your local gym in terms of fitness and weight loss. Have fun within a two-week timeframe, declaring yourself the biggest loser (of mobile minutes, that is) and report back to family and friends on what you feel you have gained. You might be surprised how liberating this actually feels.

You’ll come away appreciating the digital world and its conveniences a great deal more. You’ll also likely have a clearer head and not be tempted to snap back a reply online that might hurt another or inadvertently hurt yourself. And you’ll be able to use the AntiSocial app to become more social and start that invaluable conversation with those loved ones around you in the physical space.


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Social network services, Facebook, Mobile communication, Australia, Telecommunication services, smart phones, social networking (online), telephone networks, smartphone, social media, antisocial app, second-generation mobile assignment, 2G mobile assignment, Nortel telecommunications vendor, Hutchison, Australia, network traffic, voice networks, Internet, data network dimensioning, public switched telephone network, integrated services digital network, small-to-medium enterprises

Citation: Katina Michael, "Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone, Social Media, and More?: The New AntiSocial App Could Help", IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 4, Oct. 2017, pp. 116 - 121, DOI: 10.1109/MCE.2017.2714421