Photo by James Sutton
Here are some questions I get a lot.
why are you against smartphones?
I'm not. Like most people, I use use my smartphone every day for work, navigation, music, podcasts, and a million other perfectly good reasons. However, I also found myself using my smartphone in a lot of unproductive, unhealthy ways. Hours wasted on often-toxic social media, compulsively checking my phone even during face-to-face conversations or while driving, distracting myself during work or study, feeling low-grade anxiety when my phone isn't available- sound familiar? These are signs that not all smartphone use is healthy. Not to overstate things, but a growing body of evidence suggests smartphone use has changed the behavior of an entire generation in historically unprecedented ways. Just how valid is the science behind that claim? See next question.
Is smartphone addiction really a thing?
That is a great question, I'm glad I asked it for you. Clinically speaking, no, it's not something you can diagnose. Smartphone addiction is not yet in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V, or DSM-V, the authoritative guidebook for clinical psychologists. That is because there just isn't enough research on the topic yet. Behavioral addictions such as gambling took decades of studies before psychologists added it to the DSM-IV. That's part of the problem SwitchKick aims to address: by making our data available (with all identifiers stripped out so your anonymity stays protected, of course) to the scientific community, and using SwitchKick as a research platform, we hope to contribute to greater understanding of how smartphone dependence works from person to person, as well as learn how best to overcome it.
Wait, why do you use the term "smartphone addiction" then?
Well, firstly, because it is easier and more concise than saying "obsessive smartphone use behavior" and more generally understood than saying "smartphone dependence". Secondly, because all the research on the topic indicates that problematic smartphone use does indeed meet many of the criteria for addiction: salience or preoccupation (one thinks about one’s smartphone even when not using it), mood modification (use of the smartphone as a means of escape), tolerance (greater use is necessary to gain the desired effect), withdrawal (loss of one’s smartphone results in symptoms such as anxiety), conflict (smartphone use creates problems in the user’s daily life and relationships), and relapse (it is difficult to stop the behavior, as one falls back into old habits). That said, I'm trying to move to the term "smartphone dependence" rather than "smartphone addiction"
THERE ARE ALREADY APPLICATIONS TO HELP MANAGE SMARTPHONE use. WHAT MAKES SWITCHKICK any different?
I'm so glad you asked! Five things make SwitchKick unique. (I know, you thought it was just three. That's all we could fit in the video!)
1. It uses social learning and group support. No other app offers this cooperative learning experience, which is excellent for families, friends, work groups and classes. Alternatively, you will be able to join anonymous groups for motivation and accountability. In head to head experiments, people in groups reduced their addiction more effectively than people using the same app by themselves.
2. It uses cooperation instead of control. Instead of Dad, or a teacher, or a boss having control over your smartphone use, everyone cooperates to learn to control their smartphone use. For families, the group accountability has been demonstrated to result in better perceptions of authoritative parenting. That's because SwitchKick inherently promotes leading by example.
3. Instead of targeting overall use, SwitchKick singles out problem use. Not all smartphone use is bad. We just have to learn to control it. Everyone is different, and some people will be on their phones more often for one reason or another. It only becomes a problem if you can't control your use, and it interferes with your life.
4. Unlike other popular apps, this one uses an approach based on published research by the psychological community, and in turn will contribute to the scientific literature on the topic. SwitchKick will form a platform for research to understand the different ways smartphone use can be adaptive or maladaptive.
5. It will be 100% free! Other apps put their premium services behind a payment wall. There isn't anything wrong with that, but for me, the goal is to help as many people as possible. How will it be possible to fund an app without charging for it? I strongly believe people will support something they believe in, so this app will live on crowdfunding. If you like it, you can support it. Simple as that.
Why crowdfunding? Couldn't you apply for a grant or pitch the idea to investors?
I thought about that, but I'm not a graduate student (yet), nor am I faculty at any educational institution (Research assistants aren't faculty). I don't want to wait around until I have my PhD to pursue this idea; nor do I want some company taking SwitchKick and monetizing it by charging a subscription fee for the premium services. That's not my vision. Smartphone addiction is the definitive mental health problem of our generation; it deserves a response available to everyone free of charge. The second reason is that crowdfunding raises awareness and brings a community together, which is the goal of SwitchKick: to bring people together to solve a problem.
What makes you qualified to do this?
While completing my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Houston, I worked in a lab specifically focused on social psychology solutions to addictive behaviors. I was awarded the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship for my original research on smartphone addiction, flow theory, and obsessive and harmonious passion. (This research is currently being prepared to submit to an academic journal for publication. You can read all 52 pages of my Honors Thesis here) While I'm no PhD, I have experience in research on this topic. I still consult with my mentors (who DO have PhDs) regularly, and they have given me valuable feedback and advice on SwitchKick.