This surrogate phone may help you with your smartphone addiction

A look at how dependent we’ve become and what it means for our health.

A look at how dependent we’ve become and what it means for our health.

(Source: photo by Leonhard Hilzensauer/product design by Klemens Schillingen)

Klemens Schillinger, an Austrian designer has created the Substitute Phone with a series of objects meant to assuage the pangs of phone addiction. Decidedly phone-shaped, the five devices allow for crave-satisfying motions like pinching, scrolling and swiping (yes, left or right). And they're pretty too. Marble-like stones embedded in matte black plastic support the simulation of smartphone finger gestures. Schillinger hopes his design will provide a sub for pervasive (and often fruitless) phone "checking behaviour" - and ease symptoms of withdrawal for those tethered a little too tightly to their EDC screen device. If you're an early adopter, the imitation phones will be coming soon.

But the real question is do we really need surrogate devices to cure our smartphone dependence? Given the health ramifications of the real thing, science says yes.

"We're wired and we're tired all the time." This is the claim of psychotherapist and author, Nancy Colier. In her book, The Power of Off, Colier writes, "most people now check their smartphones 150 times per day, or every six minutes."  She also provides this relevant stat: "46 percent of smartphone users now say that their devices are something they 'couldn't live without.'" Our professional needs being what they are, that isn't so surprising. But most users are among the younger generations. The average amount of daily texts for young adults, says Colier, sits at around 110 messages. Plugged in earlier and earlier, society is seeing many benefits from the tech jumps we've made in the past decade, but the health drawbacks of smartphones are piling up like unanswered text messages. Many studies point to constant fatigue due to widening sleep deficits. In point of fact, teens are definitely getting less sleep and the correlations to smartphone use are undeniable.

Proper sleep is as crucial to human health as eating and, for the most part, less is truly less. Troubled sleep has been linked to weight gain, viral infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, poor mental health, low sex drive, and higher mortality rates. Most Canadians, by the way, are already puffy-eyed sufferers of poor sleep hygiene. Due to the harmful effects of not getting enough rejuvenating shut eye, it's been branded an epidemic—and bathing your face in blue light to check one more Instagram story before bedtime (no matter how old you are) isn't helping. It's actually resetting your circadian rhythm and making your brain think the sun's coming up. Cock-a-doodle-do, no rest for you. Cue health decline. So, keep any non-phone-substitutes out of your bedroom as much as possible and implement a plan to use them less. Right? Riiiiiight.

(Source: photo by Leonhard Hilzensauer/product design by Klemens Schillingen)

If you're resisting because you're a very, very important captain of industry, work demands are no excuse. Professionals like filmmaker Tiffany Shlain simply suggest a technology shabbat. Once a week, unplug from sun up to sundown. She readily admits to loving tech but she sensed an unhealthy imbalance taking hold. "I got to a point where I felt overwhelmed and distracted by it." The solution was one day away, every week. Obviously, all faiths welcome.    

Still, Shlain says it isn't easy. And given the deepening dependence to devices worldwide, a self-management strategy or resolve to scroll less will continue to prove challenging. Smartphone separation anxiety has now joined the ranks of proper phobias. At least in terms of treatment. Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, Editor-in Chief of the Interactive Media Institute in San Diego, California and the Virtual Reality Medical Institute in Brussels, Belgium, says "NoMophobia (no mobile phobia), fear of missing out (FoMo), and fear of being offline (FoBo)—all anxieties born of our new high-tech lifestyles—may be treated similarly to other more traditional phobias." She says, exposure therapy that has sufferers tolerate an environment free of devices in a controlled manner over time can help.

If this level of dependency seems odd to you, consider that phones are increasingly perceived as extensions of the self. With more and more of our memories getting stored on smartphones it's easier to form a bond you'd rather not break. There is real attachment taking place. One study found that 1 in 3 people would rather give up sex than their smartphones. Couple that with the sense that you're holding one end of a technological rope linking you to everyone you know and Schillinger's Substitute Phone starts to sound pretty appropriate as a coping tool.  

The emotional toll of our attachment is worth some consideration. To say nothing of text neck and traffic safety. One solution to the pickle of smartphone zombies walking absent-mindedly into traffic was to turn sidewalks into light installations. A city in the Netherlands recently set up sidewalk traffic lasers aimed at grabbing the attention of anyone (and everyone) looking down instead of straight ahead. Yes, as a species we are very much here. And likely in need some smartphone rehab.  

Should you need more reasons to put down your phone for a spell, this adorable vid from the folks at ASAP Science brings up yet another problem with screen devices - they're ruining our eyeballs. That said, their sketches make our growing technological dependence on smartphones almost cute. Almost.