Whenever I go out, I always wonder why so many people are always looking at their phones. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t do the same thing, but that doesn’t make it any less of a strange thing to do.
There are many reasons why people spend so much time on their phones, the most obvious reasons seem to be addiction, boredom, laziness and a desire for attention. While all these factors matter, it seems like real human interactions would often be a better approach.
Here is a list of nine reasons why people always look at their phones, the last one might surprise you.
1) We are Addicted to Our Phones
The most obvious and likely reason why everyone is always on their phones is that they are addicted. We could ask whether people are addicted or if it is more of a deeply entrenched habit that has been learnt with repeated use. Regardless of the cause, people can’t seem to put down their phones.
According to researchers, even though we use our phones in a way that seems like an addiction to most people, it is actually better described as problematic use.
They point out that although people use their phones too much, appear to have a problem with impulse control, and have some negative consequences because of it, it is not truly an addiction.
They further point out that a real addiction would have severe effects on physical and psychological health.
I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t pretend to completely understand the distinction, but the scientists agree that people have a problem regardless of what we call it. When I think of how the people I know use their phones, it is often more of a problem with specific apps and the feedback they give.
For myself, in the past, I would always check my Twitter and Facebook feed, but one day I realized it had become too much of a bother, and I erased all of the social media apps I had.
Some people may argue that erasing apps isn’t a solution and instead social media should be designed better. I certainly agree with those recommendations, but I know that erasing the apps was the best solution for me.
To be clear, this isn’t speculation; as I know that erasing those apps helped me use my phone less and improved my happiness.
If you are wondering why everyone is always on their phone, the first answer has to do with problematic use, either related to the phone itself or the apps on it.
2) Phones are the Ultimate Distraction
I know that every time I pick up my phone to do something, I get distracted and end up doing something else.
This is the worst when I pick up the phone to look up something that I need to know right then but end up checking email or messages or something else entirely and forget what I was trying to do.
No matter how strong your self-control, if you don’t keep focused on what you are doing, you will get pulled into some other distraction on your phone.
Another part of the distractions comes from notifications, every time our phones dings or buzzes, we are tempted to take a look. I know when I am watching TV and my phone buzzes, I’m always tempted to take a look, even when I know that there isn’t anything important to see.
Herein lies the problem, if we look at our phones for any reason, we get sucked in and are ultimately distracted for however long we let it happen.
One thing that is easy to forget is that the people who make the apps on our phones design them in such a way that they will maximize our attention.
If you have watched ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix, you may know what I am talking about. In that movie, they talk to various people from silicon valley who speak of the problem and how they contributed to them.
However, one of the more interesting takeaways for me was that most of the people interviewed said they won’t let their kids use cell phones or the apps they were involved in building.
A huge reason why everyone is always looking at their phones is that phones are a distraction and time suck. If you make the mistake of looking at your phone, you might get pulled in and lose a whole bunch of time that would be better used somewhere else.
3) We Don’t Want To Be Bored
I remember a long time ago, before cell phones if I was bored, I had to pick up a book, go outside, or do something with my time. While at university, if I was sitting in class, I didn’t have anything except my notebooks and pens.
If I was bored, I could look at my notebook or talk to the people around me. At the same time, if you look at pictures from the past, you will see people on trains and buses reading newspapers as a way to avoid boredom.
There is little doubt that much of our lives are spent doing things, and we always feel like we should be doing something. And when we aren’t doing something, we feel a void that needs to be filled. In the past, people used whatever they had to fill in that time, but now, most people turn to their phones because they always have them.
Being bored isn’t a new problem; it is something that people have struggled with for all of time, however, they didn’t have phones before.
I’ve dabbled in and out of meditation, I’ve kept it as a habit for months, and been able to see the benefits that it brings. One of those benefits is the ability to sit still and not think about anything.
As someone who has had some success with meditation, I know how great it can feel, and I know how I can handle not doing anything without getting fidgety.
But now that I am out of practice and have gotten out of the habit, boredom has caught up with me again, and I find myself looking at my phone any chance I get.
A primary reason why everyone is always looking at their phones is that they are bored.
For some reason, we have been trained to think that being bored is a problem that we need to do something about. I beg to differ and believe we should be ok with boredom, I also realize that a good way to help with that problem is with meditation.
4) We Want to Look Busy
When cellphones first came out, people who used them looked important. It was easy to assume at the time that if someone had a cellphone, they must have had it for an important reason; either a job or some other commitment that required them to always be in close communication.
Now, as time has passed and everyone has gotten a phone, it seems that being important has stopped being an excuse for getting one.
In the past, I’ve noticed on public transit that people sometimes pull out their phones and look at them if someone is going to talk to them. I think people do this so that they can say they are busy or have a polite reason to ignore the conversation.
At the same time, it is always easier to ignore someone if you have something on the go. In this way, having a phone gives us an excuse not to interact with the people around us.
Although it might not be a huge problem, a lot of people always look at their phones because they want to look busy.
Part of that is because they don’t want to be bothered, but another reason may be that if they aren’t looking at their phones, they may start looking at something else, and that could become a problem.
5) We Want Attention
While at one level people use their phones so that the people around them will leave them alone, they also use their phones to get attention from people who aren’t physically around them.
When you are on the train or in the street, most people won’t pay any attention to you unless you are a beautiful person. I’d hazard to suspect that this is the case for most people.
However, when we look at our phones and check our messages or social media, we are looking to see if someone is trying to reach us. In a sense, this might represent some insecurities we have, are we important?
Are people thinking about us? Are we on their mind right now? While these questions will have different answers, the point remains that we all need attention sometimes.
When our phone buzzes, we always take a peek to see what has happened or who has reached out to us.
This desire for attention likely keeps us looking, even if there isn’t anything new.
At the same time, we create content on social media so that people will react to it, either tell us how nice we look or agree with our opinions.
Everyone is always looking at their phones because they need and want the attention it can bring, even if they don’t want attention from the world around them.
6) We are Cowards
It might be a little harsh to call people cowards when they might just be a little shy. As a child, I always had a problem with shyness; it took me years of practice and travelling by myself to get over that difficulty.
But now, I realize that often it is not so much shyness as laziness or fear of talking and interacting with other people.
There are various scales of shyness, and for some people, it is more complicated than it was for me, so all I can talk about is my own reality.
But from my experience, I can say that looking at a phone is a great way to avoid having to interact with the people around us.
At times in the past, if I didn’t want to talk to my family or friends, I’d look at the phone, and that would be my justification for avoiding interactions and conversations.
In many ways, people are always looking at their phones because it gives them an excuse not to interact with the world around them or talk to the people next to them.
In some cases, this makes sense, you don’t want or need to speak to everyone, but at the same time, it appears that we are using our phones as a way to avoid interacting with the world. We may argue that we aren’t afraid, but what else could it be?
7) We want to Feel Productive
We have a family friend who always looks at his phone when we meet, he is friendly and a little shy, but he is always dealing with work.
Based on what I know about how much he works, I can believe it; his job involves communicating with lots of different people at every hour of the day.
But at the same time, I wonder how much of the work he is doing is necessary and how much is a need to feel like he is getting work done.
A lot of times, it’s hard to take a break; in many ways, we feel like we always need to be moving, we always need to be earning our wage, and we are always expected to be on call.
This may mean adding your work email to your cell phone or even installing a project management tool to keep up to date with projects.
In both cases, having the tools on our phone will keep us posted, but often to do the work requires actually sitting at the computer.
If we always have a lot to do, we might find that we can never get away from our devices. While at the same if we don’t have enough to do, we might use our devices as an excuse to feel like we are doing more.
Put this in an example, if I were ignoring someone during a conversation, they would get mad, if they ask what I was doing and I said ‘playing a game,’ they would be furious. However, if I said, “I’m doing work,” they might be more willing to accept my rudeness.
People are always looking at their phones because, in this world of always online if you aren’t working, you might be seen as lazy, which is worse than doing nothing at all.
8) Everything We Need is On Our Phones
As far as our entertainment is concerned, almost everything can be found on our phones. If we want to watch a video or play a game, we always have an app.
If we want to talk to someone, we can make a call or use another app to connect. If we want to look up some information, like finding a recipe for dinner or learn about why something happens, we can look at our phones and find the answers we need.
In many ways, everything we need is on our phones, so we don’t need to look elsewhere.
For this reason, people spend lots of time on their phones because everything they do is there.
In the past, if you wanted to read, you’d pick up a book, if you wanted to play a game, you’d turn on the Nintendo, but now, with all of those things in one place, we no longer need to look outside of our phones.
For many reasons, people are always looking at their phones because that is the only place they need to look for everything they do. It’s kind of funny because it is a big deal to get a new phone and have a new place to do all the things we like to do.
9) We Don’t Want Real Connections
This last reason might be a little absurd, and it is related to a couple of the other things we already talked about, but it seems that people don’t want real connections when they are using their phones.
This isn’t to say that people don’t ever want real connections; instead, when they don’t want a real connection, they look at their phones.
It’s more like it is the thing we do when we want to be left alone.
Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but it doesn’t seem too crazy to assume that looking at a phone is a sort of anti-social activity, even if it is essentially social at its core. It sounds strange to say that while doing social media, we are being anti-social, but that is basically what is happening.
It’s not always bad to avoid social interactions, this is especially true when we spend our days at work surrounded by people.
When it comes time to go home, we what to checkout and be by ourselves while surrounded by people on public transit.
In this case and many others, people are always looking at their phones because they want to be alone when that isn’t a practical option.
These days everyone is always looking at their phones, and there are many reasons for that, but hopefully, this list covers some of the more significant reasons.
If you don’t want to be like everyone else, it might be wise to erase all the apps off of your phone, and that way you won’t have a reason to look at it anymore.