By Ellen Gibson, AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — You gave it a pet name. It knows more about you than your mother does. Sometimes you even sleep with it. In fact, you're so attached to it that being separated for only a few minutes could send you into a panic.
While smartphone users worry about mobile hacking and other security threats that are making news these days, psychologists and others are concerned about another equally troubling issue: the growing obsession among people who would much rather interact with their smartphones than with other human beings.
"Watching people who get their first smartphone, there's a very quick progression from having a basic phone you don't talk about to people who love their iPhone, name their phone and buy their phones outfits," said Lisa Merlo, director of psychotherapy training at the University of Florida.
The increasing dependence comes as more Americans ditch their iPods, cameras, maps and address books in favor of the myriad capabilities of a smartphone. After all, companies have rolled out thousands of applications that do everything from track your heart rate to guide you through the streets of New York City. While smartphones have made life easier for some, psychologists say the love of them is becoming more like an addiction, creating consequences that range from minor (teenagers who communicate in three-letter acronyms like LOL and BRB) to major (car accidents caused by people who text while driving).
Merlo, a clinical psychologist, said she's observed a number of behaviors among smartphone users that she labels "problematic." Among them, Merlo says some patients pretend to talk on the phone or fiddle with apps to avoid eye contact or other interactions at a bar or a party. Others are so genuinely engrossed in their phones that they ignore the people around them completely.
"The more bells and whistles the phone has," she says, "the more likely they are to get too attached."
Michelle Hackman, a recent high school graduate in Long Island, NY, won a $75,000 prize in this year's Intel Science Talent Search with a research project investigating teens' attachment to their cell phones. She found that students separated from their phones were under-stimulated — a low heart rate was an indicator — and lacked the ability to entertain themselves.
Most of the teens at Hackman's affluent high school own smartphones, she says, and could even be found texting under their desks during class. "It creates an on-edge feeling and you don't realize how much of the lecture you're missing," Hackman says.