There has been a lot of research on willpower in recent years. The gist of it is that willpower is a limited resource during any given day, so if you use your willpower resisting one temptation you might not have enough to resist the next.
I don’t know about you, but my biggest drain on willpower during any given day is my iPhone 6. It calls to me continuously during the day. Often I need to be focusing on something more important, or it would be socially impolite to check my text messages, or I am driving and it would be dangerous. These situations come up all day long. It’s mentally exhausting. The conversation in my head goes like this: “Look at phone. DON’T LOOK AT PHONE! Look at phone. DON’T LOOK AT PHONE!” And so on to infinity. The research on habit formation suggests that anyone with a smartphone is having the same experience because the “rewards” of checking your phone are unpredictable, and unpredictable rewards create addiction circuitry in your brain.
Life had enough temptations before smartphones were invented. Personally, my daily willpower drain feels as if it is 100% higher than it was pre-smartphone.
If my hypothesis is correct, smartphone users should have higher obesity rates, drug dependence, spouse abuse, and infidelity rates than non-smartphone users all other things being equal.
I have no data to support my hypothesis, but it is built on fairly solid assumptions:
- Willpower is a finite resource.
- The reward from checking your phone is unpredictable and creates addiction/habit circuitry in your brain.
- Resisting your smartphone addiction all day requires willpower.
- You need willpower to resist unhealthy choices.
I’m pro-technology and I don’t suggest we return to an agrarian civilization. But am I wrong that smartphones are killing us?