Industries in Depth

You're addicted to socializing, not your smartphone

Pedestrians look at their mobile phones near Brick Lane in London, Britain October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth SEARCH "WERMUTH PHONES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Smartphone addiction may actually be a inherit need to connect with others. Image: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Justin Dupuis
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Industries in Depth?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Digital Communications is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Digital Communications

We may be glued to our smartphones because of an evolutionary drive for socializing, rather than a technological addiction to them, new research suggests.

The desire to watch and monitor others, but also to be seen and monitored by others, runs deep in our evolutionary past, explains Samuel Veissière, a cognitive anthropologist who studies the evolution of cognition and culture.

Humans evolved to be a uniquely social species and require constant input from others to seek a guide for culturally appropriate behavior. This is also a way we find meaning, goals, and a sense of identity.

In a study in Frontiers in Psychology, Veissière and Moriah Stendel, researchers in the psychiatry department at McGill University, reviewed current literature on dysfunctional use of smart technology through an evolutionary lens, and found that the most addictive smartphone functions all shared a common theme: they tap into the human desire to connect with other people.

Image: Business Insider

While smartphones harness a normal and healthy need for being social, Veissière says that the pace and scale of hyper-connectivity pushes the brain’s reward system to run on overdrive, which can lead to unhealthy addictions.

“In post-industrial environments where foods are abundant and readily available, our cravings for fat and sugar sculpted by distant evolutionary pressures can easily go into insatiable overdrive and lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease… the pro-social needs and rewards [of smartphone use as a means to connect] can similarly be hijacked to produce a manic theater of hyper-social monitoring,” the authors write in the paper.

“There is a lot of panic surrounding this topic,” says Veissière. “We’re trying to offer some good news and show that it is our desire for human interaction that is addictive and there are fairly simple solutions to deal with this.”

Steps to regain control over your smartphone use:

  • Relax and celebrate the fact your addiction reflects a normal urge to connect with others
  • Turn off push notifications and set appropriate times to check your phone intentionally
  • Create “intentional protocols” with friends, family, and work circles to set clear expectations on when to communicate
Have you read?

Research also suggests that workplace policies “that prohibit evening and weekend emails” are important.

“Rather than start regulating the tech companies or the use of these devices, we need to start having a conversation about the appropriate way to use smartphones,” says the professor in a recent interview. “Parents and teachers need to be made aware of how important this is.”

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Industries in DepthEmerging Technologies
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.


Top 5 countries leading the sustainable tourism sector

Robin Pomeroy and Linda Lacina

April 29, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum