Put warning labels on smartphones to prevent digital addiction, say researchers

Smartphones and tablets should carry warning labels like alcohol and cigarettes, research has claimed

Warning labels on smartphones, tablets and other digital devices in the manner of cigarette packaging could help prevent users becoming addicted to their gadgets, according to research.

Applying labels or messages on devices could encourage responsible usage and raise awareness of the potential side effects of digital addiction, researchers at Bournemouth University said.

Symptoms of addiction to social networks, sites and games can include tolerance to a continuous increase of usage, changes in user mood once they are online, withdrawal symptoms when away from the device and relapsing when trying to adjust to using it less, the study found.

The research drew parallels between the labelling used in the tobacco and alcohol industries to raise awareness of the potential consequences, stating ”we still do not have the same for addictive software”.

The study examined the attitudes of participants towards technology, the amount of time they spend using it and the moral and ethical responsibilities that lies with manufacturers and software creators.

It encouraged a “positive and gentle” approach to messaging users, such as the use of timers to monitor usage levels, pop-up notifications or beeps when you spend too long on a game or check Facebook excessively.

“Research has shown that excessive and obsessive usage and preoccupation about technology are associated with undesirable behaviours such as reduced creativity, depression and disconnection from reality,” said Dr Raian Ali, senior lecturer in Computing at Bournemouth University.

Users were more likely to respond to and take notice of motivational rather than negative messages, the research, which was conducted in partnership with Streetscene Addiction Recover, a rehab centre, found.

“Warning messages and labels are a social responsibility, ethical and professional practice for technology developers, at least to raise awareness so that people can make an informed decision on whether and how to use technology,” Dr Ali added.

A previous study from 2011 compared the withdrawal symptoms experienced by young people separated from their gadgets as similar to drug addicts going “cold turkey“.

Nearly four in five students experienced significant mental and physical distress, panic, confusion and extreme isolation when forced to unplug from technology for 24 hours, researchers said.

Bournemouth University research suggests smartphones should carry warning labels to prevent digital addiction

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