How People with ADHD Deal with Constant Smartphone Notifications
A new study of 221 young people found "ADHD-like symptoms" present in their smartphone habits, but what about people who actually have ADHD?
When will it end. Via
If you want to know how obsessed you've become with your phone, just ask your mom. Your poor mom that only gets to see you once every two months because you've always got a more important brunch planned. Your poor mom, who, when you finally do show you face for 45 minutes on a Thursday afternoon, has to spend the entire time watching you stare at a screen, replying to Instagram comments, and posting Snapchats of her gross home decor.
Things have become so dire that a new study of 221 young people found "ADHD-like symptoms" present in their smartphone habits. The experiment measured "inattentiveness" and "hyperactivity" by asking participants how often they experienced one or more of 18 symptoms linked to ADHD in adults.
Students from the University of British Columbia took part in a two-week experiment. They were divided into two groups. In the first week, one group was instructed to activate "do not disturb," and the other was told to keep notification alerts on. In the second week, in the name of equality, participant swapped roles. The study concluded:
"The results were clear: More frequent phone interruptions made people less attentive and more hyperactive."
But what about people who actually have ADHD? How does the constant buzz of smartphone notifications affect their condition? We asked a man and a woman with ADHD (in the UK, there are six boys diagnosed with ADHD for every one girl) how it affects their relationship with technology.
CLAUDIA, 24, BERMUDA
VICE: Do you experience "inattentiveness" or "hyperactivity" when you use your smartphone?
Claudia: When I look at my phone, everything around me is blocked out. Someone could be talking to me, but I would have no idea. Similarly, if I'm studying, and my phone is on loud or facing up, I get really distracted. A quick check of Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat turns into hours. I get lost in the web of social media. I can be way too hasty to comment. It's dependent on my mood. If I'm in one of my hyperactive states, I can go on a comment spree that leaves me on Instagram for hours.
What makes you snap out of the trance?
It's either when I've noticed I've been looking at the same thing over and over again, or when I am at work and a client comes in. That's normally what makes me click out of it.
Are there ways in which your smartphone helps your ADHD?
My smartphone is like a diary. I use calendar apps to remind myself to do some things others find natural, like taking a daily vitamin or attending an appointment. So in a way, it helps my ADHD. But when it comes to messaging services and social media, it is very detrimental to my focus. It's definitely half and half. But if I had to call it, I would say smartphones are more detrimental to ADHD than not.
If you have more severe ADHD, I can understand why you would not have a smartphone at all.
So would you ever consider going without a phone at all?
A lot of people use their smartphone as a portable computer, because you can basically do all of your work from a phone nowadays. But I can't do that. Setting reminders on my phone doesn't always work for me. I actually carry around a notebook to write down a daily to-do list. ADHD is a wide spectrum. If you have more severe ADHD, I can understand why you would not have a smartphone at all.
You talk about the wide spectrum. Where would you say you fall?
Yes, ADHD is broad. There are those who focus on too many things at once, and those who can't focus on anything. I'm someone that focuses on too many things at once. And when it gets too much, I can't focus on anything. I can't multitask. I can't check Instagram and talk to someone at the same time, although that's rude anyway.
Can you take medication for that?
When I took medication for my ADHD, it helped me to focus on one thing at a time. It stopped me trying to do a hundred things at once. But I don't take ADHD medication anymore. The side effects would really subdue my mood, making me a bit upset and depressed.
So you can see why the scientists described the way we interact with smartphones as "ADHD-like"?
Definitely, I have noticed people who do not have ADHD experience similar effects. People seem to get so engrossed in their phones, that they have no idea what's going on around them.
AXEL, 22, LUXURY CAR DETAILER
VICE: When were you first diagnosed with ADHD?
Axel: It was always kinda obvious I had it, but I was probably diagnosed when I was about eight.
Have you tried lots of different stuff to deal with it?
I've been on Ritalin and had behavior therapy. I'm quite happy with where I am now though. It's been a while to find my place, but I have a job that's good for me now I think—I'm a car detailer.
So how does having ADHD affect how you interact with your phone?
Well I'm always on my phone when I shouldn't be, and I'm constantly checking it. But at the same time, my mates and family always have a go at me for never replying to their texts or picking up calls. I think I'm more likely to be the one who ends up getting distracted from their phone, not the other way around.
As someone who has ADHD, do you notice other people showing a lack of attention when they're glued to their phones?
When I've had dinner with my family, I notice that everyone keeps checking their phones. It's kind of funny, though, so we make a joke of it. I'll admit, though, when I get bored of a sit-down chat with people I tend to just start browsing stuff on my phone. I try and be subtle, but it's probably obvious.
What things do you do on your phone that people without ADHD might not?
I'm always posting stuff on Facebook without thinking about it. I just see something cool and repost it, then find out it's all fake or whatever. But people put so much crap on sites like that, so either they all have ADHD too, or it doesn't really matter.
Do you think that constantly having notifications enabled is a bad thing?
It can be, but at the same time, I struggle with keeping myself organized, which is common with this disorder, so my phone is good for reminding me of things.
Does ADHD affect your relationship with technology in other ways?
Well I like to game a bit. I like shooting games like Call Of Duty and stuff. I find that kind of thing really relaxing, anything that's fast-paced, so I can just sit there and keep busy. I do find train and bus journeys hard though, so I have a lot of mobile games on my phone for those kind of things.
Do you consider yourself different in any of these things to people without ADHD?
I think I do. When I first saw the Lord Of the Rings films, I went out and bought all the Warhammer figures I could, and got a bit obsessed with building them, and painting them. If I get into something I find it a big distraction, which a lot of people find weird because they assume you can't focus on anything for long with ADHD. But I do get really into things, and start spending my time thinking about that instead of what I should be doing. That's why I got into car detailing, because I get really into it, and it's one of a few things I can really concentrate on for hours at a time.