Mobile Phone Addiction: Real or Fake? (A Marketer’s Opinion)

by Josh Barney

I (kinda) shouldn’t be writing this….

…in fact, delete the ‘kinda’. I only inserted it to make me feel a little safer.

I work in marketing, more specifically I’m a Director of Content for a marketing agency. That means I need content seen and consumed by an audience, via any medium possible.

Including (yes you guessed it) mobile. More so now, than ever before. For the first time in the history of the internet, Desktop has been outdone for internet usage. Mobile now commands 52.2% of users browsing the web.

But here’s the thing…I really don’t think that’s cool. I actually find it irritating. Not because I don’t want to move with the times or I don’t like optimising for mobile, (I love a good test), it’s what it means that’s got me.

Let’s slow down for a second. I don’t want to spit out a few spurious reasons, only for the (wrong) person to read this, make an assumption and it cause serious repercussions.

Because I really shouldn’t be writing this post. I should be creating content about how I optimise for Mobile, and how we bring in tons of traffic for our clients using that medium…

…but I’m not a data bod, or a slave for the obvious. I strategize, create, edit and market content. And no matter how hard I’ve tried to escape writing this, it keeps clawing me back.

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Mobile Phones are Awesome  

If you were expecting a non-stop mobile bashing, you came to the wrong place, because they’re awesome.

It’s crazy to think of a world without them. And that’s exactly NOT what I’m arguing here. I want to make it clear (before we dive into the darker depths of this article) that I don’t think they’re a bad thing.

As well as opening up a whole new world of communication, allowing us to keep tons of information in one place and virtually replacing a pocketful of other gadgets, they also make my job a whole lot easier.

More people are using them to go online, which means…

…more people are going online.

If you’re in the world of marketing or business, you know that means better odds of success. I like good odds, and so should you.

But, something happens to us when we reach into our pockets and produce that miniature screen…


….The D Factor

mobile phone effects marketing dopamine

You’ve probably heard of the X Factor, well the D factor is (a little) like that, except the viewing figures haven’t dropped after the 43rd Series.

This terrible, scary, awful D-factor?


Dopamine? That’s the happy chemical Josh? Surely, that makes mobile’s EVEN BETTER!?!

Sorry guys and gals, it doesn’t work like that.

Before we get into the (slightly dry) scientific stuff, I want to ask you a question: How many times do you think you unlock your phone every day?

20? 30? 50? 60? 70?

Nope. According to Apple, iPhone users unlock their phones an average of 80 times per day.

That means (based on 8 hours sleep), you unlock your phones 5 times per hour, or once every 12 minutes.

And that’s just an average!!! My grandma has an iPhone, and I’m pretty sure she’s dragging that number down for all of us.

So, I should be excited, right? Entrepreneurs, business owners and marketers should be too, shouldn’t they?

If you’re all unlocking your phones every 12 minutes and you’re now using your phones more than desktops (for internet usage) and both those numbers are predicted to rise. I’m on to a winner, right? It means more people will see our clients’ content, increasing brand awareness, retargeting lists and the number of future conversions, doesn’t it?


Dopamine Secrets

mobile phone effects marketing dopamine

Despite often being thought of as the happy chemical, the true nature of dopamine is actually a lot more complex.

The neurotransmitting chemical, discovered in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden, plays a crucial role in motivating our behaviour.

In simpler terms, when you do something that feels good, dopamine is released (increasing pleasure). When you anticipate or think of doing that pleasant experience again, dopamine is released to drive you towards making that same decision. It’s the carrot on the end of the psychological stick.

It hugely influences reward-motivated behaviour, increasing desire, seeking and creating an intangible reason for wanting.

The chemical works in a startling way for addicts. For example, when drug addicts try to withdraw, dopamine is either completely blocked (so the pleasurable effects aren’t felt), or it is released in huge quantities to increase the need for drugs. Whichever one takes hold (depending on the drug), dopamine creates an urgent psychological desperation, even when the addicts know the costly effects of their habit.

And the bad news for all of us? Numerous scientific studies have revealed that dopamine is released every time you use your phone.

Oh dear.


Knock-on Effects

mobile phone effects marketing

Can you remember the last time you lost your phone? Or misplaced it? Or left the house without it? Or even put it in a separate room to charge?

How did you feel? What did you do?

I’m betting that most of you felt a strange sensation, and in order to cure it, you dropped everything and went out of your way to get it back. And, I reckon that those of you who put it somewhere out of your reach to charge, regularly moved to check on it.

Sounds familiar?

The psychological hold of misplacing a phone is so powerful that it now has its own term, nomophobia. (no-mobile-phobia) 

That might sound a little ridiculous, but it’s true. I swear it. Read until the end of this post and search the term.

And this says something painful about an entire generation of human beings: we’re all addicted to a device in our pockets.

I’m going to talk about a few absolutely terrifying statistics in just a moment, but first, I want you to cast your mind back to the early days of mobile.

I had a Nokia 3210. Remember that thing? This device (that I thought was absolutely amazing), basically had three functions:

#1: Text

#2: Calls

#3: Snake

That’s what a mobile phone was. It was rude to get them out in a meeting, or over dinner, or during a conversation. We didn’t open them every 12 minutes. We didn’t walk around the house with them in our pockets. We didn’t constantly revisit them while they were charging. We even turned them off at the cinema!

We used them as the incredible devices they were, without it sending us all loopy.



mobile phone addiction effects marketing

Communications are the main cause of dopamine release, and therefore, the main cause of our addiction. But, why is it so much more extreme now?

The mobile phones of today are equipped with tons of platforms and 90% of them send us messages. Even if you do block notifications for most of your applications, I’m betting you still receive calls, texts, emails, whatsapp’s, tweets, Facebook updates, Messenger communications, news, Instagram notifications, update prompts, LinkedIn notes….and I’m only just getting started.

All of these communications make us feel valued and liked. So, when we want to feel like that again, (which dopamine makes us feel ALL THE TIME), we go back to the phone, even if we haven’t received any messages! Our addiction looks a little like this:

#1: Dopamine calls

#2: We get our phones out to check if we’ve received any messages

#3: We check notifications. If there are no notifications, we go searching for our dopamine fix on apps, (particularly social media). Our time is wasted (95% of the time).

This desperate need to adhere to our dopamine addiction has made our attention spans shorter, and for many of us, our expectations unrealistic.

And just in case you think I’m making this up, or losing my grip on reality, can you honestly tell me that any of these (commonly seen) actions don’t show signs of addiction:

  • Sense of panic if phone is misplaced- nomophobia
  • Sleeping with a phone beside you, under your pillow, or within arms-reach- even when we allow our bodies to turn off, we don’t do the same to our phone. It is beside us 24/7.
  • Believing that your phone has rung or vibrated, when it hasn’t- this is a mental trick played when we (subconsciously) really want something to happen
  • Putting your mobile phone on a table while talking, during a meeting or at dinner– placing a phone on the table says a lot about your mental state. It’s telling the people around you that you’re on call, and the phone is more important than them.
  • Increased anxiety when mobile’s battery is low- what would happen if the battery dies? Would the world end?
  • Using the phone during dangerous situations- according to the RAC report on Motoring in 2017, 23% of drivers admitted to using a handheld mobile at the wheel or to take a call in the previous 12 months. 18% admitted to texting, social media checks and emailing. And notice something, that’s only the people who admitted it! Why, if we aren’t addicted, can’t we wait until we complete our journey?
  • Phubbing- a term coined for people who snub others in favour of their mobile phone (phone + snubbing = phubbing). This often occurs when you’re having a conversation, or sitting in the company of others, and that person gets their phone out, and focusses the majority of their attention on it. Serial phubbers have extremely short attention spans and very unrealistic expectations.

These are the crazy things that dopamine addiction makes you do. Imagine if I started carrying a stapler everywhere I went (even to the toilet), sleeping with it under my pillow, stapling while I was driving, panicking when not in arms reach of it, believing that it was stapling when it actually hadn’t…

…you’d think I was crazy, right?

I guess that makes you crazy too!


Our Worrying Response

mobile phone effects marketing

What happens when you combine a short attention span (caused by a constant need for dopamine satisfaction) with unrealistic expectations (the repetitive need to feel good)?


This can lead onto things like depression, anxiety attacks and mental health issues for the unlucky few. But, the rest of us feel something else, a constant sensation of being unfulfilled.

When we’re asked how we are, we say ‘OK’. When somebody asks how our jobs are going, we say ‘fine’. If we’re asked how our day has been, we say ‘not bad’.

Our dopamine addiction has made us forget that we have amazing lives. We have boundless opportunities. We live in a society that rewards hard-work, creativity and determination. We have love and real-life relationships with people who care about us. We are able to go out and enjoy a thousand different experiences…

…but, because of our dopamine reliance, all of these amazing things are brought squarely back to ‘meh’, and as we say, everything is just ‘OK’.

People of our generation quit their jobs prematurely, believing that they should have achieved much more, much quicker. They break off relationships. They aim for things that require long-term commitment, but give up early because they aren’t as attainable as reaching into their pockets.


An Honest Purpose

mobile phone effects marketing

The reason I just couldn’t let this article go, is because I want you to understand what’s happening to (loads of) you.

I love my audience. Everything I create is written to give your lives something, to help you at work, or in your personal lives. (Einstein Marketer’s agency only takes on products that we genuinely believe will have a positive effect on consumers lives, and that allows me to get excited about giving the world something beautiful.)

I don’t want you to be sad, or depressed, or happy to skim over something that could change your life. The majority of Einstein Marketer’s audience are business owners, entrepreneurs and marketers, I want them to do well, to push the modern world forward, to make it a better place for everyone.

What I don’t want is a world full of floating, zombie-like dopamine addicts, skimming the internet every twelve minutes because they need their fix. I don’t want them endlessly visiting valuable pieces of content for 4-seconds, only to finally reach a personal crescendo when they land on a cat video.

Traffic like this isn’t real traffic. It’s addict traffic.

I care about those who engage, because they’re the people I’m aiming to connect with. And if I fail, I try again.

I want my target audience to spend their precious time doing something valuable, to create meaningful relationships, to start conversations, and to improve (the same way, awesome content creators have helped my life improve). And you should want the same!

But most importantly, I don’t want you to give up.

You must understand that attention spans are shorter than ever, this coupled with unrealistic expectations, is the fault of dopamine-reward based behaviour.

Every time you reach into your pocket, the chemicals tell you that you’ve won. Life is not that easy.


An Admission

This article has been written for YOU, and a lot of the sentiments have been focussed on your behaviour, but…

…I’m an addict too.

Sadly, I match up to most of the addict characteristics. But, I’m doing something to fix it, and it’s making my life a lot richer. After just a fortnight I’m a lot happier and more fulfilled.

These are the steps I’m taking to reduce my addiction.

Steps to Cure

mobile phone effects marketing
Sadly, this doesn’t exist!

#1: The first thing you must do is admit that you’re an addict. If you skip this step, you’ve already failed. Knowing that you’re an addict, and knowing how your life can improve by fixing it, is crucial.

#2: Next, you’ll want to take a normal day, and track how many times you unlock your phone. Don’t resist the temptation when it calls. Analyse what you do when you don’t receive any notifications, are you skimming through content that isn’t relevant to you? Checking social media? Staring blankly at your homepage? Playing a fruitless game?

#3: When you know this number, you’ve got to take steps to reduce it. I do this by realising when I’m having urges to check the device, and fight them off for as long as possible. If I do succumb to the demands of dopamine, but I haven’t received any notifications, I don’t unlock my phone.

#4: Continual checks of stats or social media won’t increase the number of views, likes or engagement you receive. Make these ‘checks’ as infrequent as possible.

#5: Every day, charge your phone for 1 or 2 hours in a separate room AND DO NOT CHECK ON IT. Do not make any excuses that break this habit.

#6: Do not sleep near your phone. If you use it as an alarm clock, STOP. Go ahead and buy yourself a real alarm clock. They cost less than £10. Turn your phone onto silent without vibrate, and put it elsewhere.

#7: Never put your phone on the table when with somebody else. And never commit the heinous act of phubbing. If you’re with somebody else, and you feel the need to look at your phone, FIGHT IT! It’s rude and has severely adverse effects on your social skills.

#8: If your phone is running low on battery, don’t panic. Allow the battery to run down until you’re in a place where charging is an option. Do not stop what you’re doing because your phone needs more juice.

#9: It goes without saying really, but please put your phone away whilst driving. Keep it out of sight. Put it in the glove box.

#10: The next time you find yourself scrolling around the internet, on a piece of content or website that is irrelevant to you, put the phone away and do something else, preferably something productive.

#11: If you’re feeling low, do not turn to the phone. Find another way to cheer yourself up.



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As long as you are completely addicted to the same chemical that affects alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers and smokers, you’re not going to be as free and happy as you should be.

Make an effort to break the cycle. Follow the steps above and I promise, your life will be a little richer.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t use your phones to browse the web, or be (digitally) social. I just suggest that, that time is spent on RELEVANT, QUALITY content that will have a positive impact on your life.

You don’t have control when you’re endlessly scrolling through newsfeeds, or sinking down a digital rabbit hole. That’s the dopamine chase, and it’s wasting your time.

Break the cycle, before it breaks you.

And please, don’t (let it make you) give up. The next time somebody asks you how you are, or how your day has been, tell them AWESOME.

What do you think about mobile addiction? Do you relate to anything in this post? Has it affected your working life? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear your opinion.

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

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