By Danielle Braff, Special to Tribune Newspapers
2:53 PM EST, January 18, 2012
Would you rather give up your toothbrush or your cellphone for an entire week?
A whopping 22 percent of people said they'd forgo brushing, according to a national survey in August by TeleNav Inc., a mobile app company. And iPhone users are the worst offenders: 40 percent of those said they'd give up their toothbrush.
At a time when 66 percent of people sleep next to their smartphones, and 20 percent would go shoeless for a week (43 percent of iPhone users) rather than temporarily release their phones — experts are worried about how addicted Americans are to their phones.
"We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg," said David Greenfield, director of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in Connecticut, and author of "Virtual Addiction." "We haven't even begun to see the impact that this technology has — it will become a worldwide epidemic. It's not here yet, but it will be."
In any given day, each person may receive thousands of emails, view hundreds of Facebook status updates and receive dozens of texts and phone calls.
Out of all of those, maybe one piece of information will be relevant to you.
"The truth is, you don't know, out of those 100 texts, which one is going to be significant or interesting, and you don't know when it's going to come," Greenfield said, comparing cellphones to slot machines.
"What we have now, are 100 million slot machines operating in people's pockets. People get a hit once in a while, but they can't predict when that's going to happen, and why," he said.
But unlike slot machines — which are tucked away in casinos — cellphones are never more than a reach away. And they're necessary for anyone looking to keep their job, maintain their relationship and reach the outside world.
Although the American Psychiatric Association doesn't formally recognize Internet addiction or cellphone addiction, experts are worried that the addictions will snowball out of control and soon become much more severe than other addictions, such as addictions to food, gambling and sex.
In several studies, young adults have reported physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when they've been separated from their phones, said Susan Moeller, director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland, College Park.
They start to hear phantom ringing, they become jittery and they get headaches, she said.
Anyone who believes that their phone behavior is interfering with their work, social or home life should seek professional help via a therapist or addiction specialist, said clinical psychologist Michael Fenichel, whose work focuses on Internet addiction.
Are you a phone junkie?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem, Greenfield said.
Do family or friends constantly ask you to detach for an hour to get back in the real world?
Do you feel depressed after turning off your phone?
As soon as your flight lands, do you immediately turn your phone on to make sure you haven't missed anything?
Do you neglect your household or work duties to spend time on your phone or online?
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