The Hidden Cost of Phone Addiction

The dark side of phone addiction: they're a tool for self-avoidance.

What if the biggest problem with our relationship to our phones wasn’t that we rely on them constantly—the “lazy brain” argument—but that we have a genuinely unhealthy, addictive relationship to them?

This animation from The London School of Life revisits phone addiction, suggesting that when we’re constantly attached to our phones, we constantly find ways to detach from other things. From the narrator, philosopher Alain de Botton:

To say we are addicted to our phones is not merely to point out that we use them a lot. It signals a darker notion: that we use them to keep our own selves at bay. Because of our phones, we may find ourselves incapable of sitting alone in a room with our own thoughts floating freely in our own heads, daring to wander into the past and the future, allowing ourselves to feel pain, desire, regret and excitement.

“Addiction sounds horrible,” de Botton continues, “but it’s a hard name for a normal inclination: a habit of running away from the joys and terrors of self-knowledge.”

Here, de Botton explores how we use our phones to avoid “a frank encounter with our own minds” and how that impacts us:

1) Google becomes your brain. “We consult our phones rather than ourselves,” says de Botton. We cobble facts together from an unending resource outside of ourselves instead of being patient with—and drawing from—what’s already there.

2) We can’t immerse in moments of awe. When we’re trying to take in the vastness of the Grand Canyon—and then a spouse tries to take a selfie. “Without meaning to, [our phones]  strip away the help that the grandeur of nature can offer us.”

3) We don’t receive the most important notifications of all. We’re constrained in what we get notifications about, says de Botton. Yes, gym workouts, dentist appointments. But what about alerts for solitude? What about taking time to think about the “final appointment”? de Botton ultimately laments that, as impressed as we are by our phones, they are more accommodating to and focused on the doing side of our nature than the being side (e.g. emotional intelligence).