Are we addicted to our smartphones? Experts weigh in

Even on a five-degree Chicago day, people are outside, gloves off, phone in hand.

Multiple studies show adults look at their phones from 80 to 160-plus times per day. Research from Flurry Analytics in 2017 found adults spend about five hours each day interacting with our devices. That's up 20 percent from the year before.

Dr. Jonathan Adelstein is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Northwestern Medical Center who focuses on addiction. When asked whether our cell phone use counts as addiction, he said:

"We define addiction in terns of two domains - what problems does it cause and can you control your behavior," Adelstein told us. "Is it causing you problems in your life and the problems are worse than what it's doing as a benefit to you? Addiction in general, whether it's to cell phones or sex or drugs or what it is - it carries such a stigma. No matter what the addiction is people have a hard time seeking help because they feel ashamed of it. If you think this is causing problems and you can't stop using it - absolutely seek help."

Lately the harmful effects of smartphone use have been all over the news. Some studies, like one from The Spine Journal, have shown that "text neck" is a problem. That's the popular notion that people damage their necks by looking down at their phones for hours. But other studies like one from the European Spine Journal refute that, saying that's the way humans have been reading books for centuries and that hasn't been a problem. Other studies show that late night smartphone use can disrupt sleep, which can lead to depression and anxiety. And there's still a lot to be determined about long term effects - so should more research be done?

"I struggle to answer that," Adelstein told us. " Research funding is so competitive it tends to go towards the more severe more acute areas. People are dying from opiate use. What are the risks, the problems that cell phones cause? Long term we may discover with more research, 'Oh my gosh, this is a huge problem.' So should there be more research? Yes. Is it feasible? It's not easy."

Lately, even the tech industry itself has voiced some concerns at our smartphone dependance. Facebook's first president Sean Parker said in a recent interview with Axios that the social network, "probably interferes with productivity in weird ways" and that, "God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains.

We went to talk with Howard Tullman, CEO of Chicago tech incubator 1871, to get his thoughts on if our growing use of smartphones is a concern to the tech industry.

"It's a considerable source of concern," he told us, adding that behaviors like "multi-tasking" aren't all they're cracked up to be. "It's doing a whole bunch of things poorly, but our kids believe that they can listen to music and chat with friends and study and watch a movie on TV at the same time. Impossible."

But for all of the potential negative effects from smartphones, they have become a tremendous research tool.

"The tech community by and large — not withstanding a few people saying, 'Gee, what evil did we unleash on the whole world?' — think it's not their responsibility. Tech is neutral. It can be used for good or bad. You have to understand that it's such a powerful research tool. To say to a school, 'Tell the kids to leave their phones at home,' it's crazy."

Speaking of our kids, 2015 research from Common Sense Media showed that teens were spending nine hours a day interacting with devices. That has led to the creation of places like Summerland Camps in North Carolina and California.

Psychologist Michael Bishop is one of the camp's founders. Their mission is to show teens they have hidden talents and abilities they've never tapped into because they've been too busy tapping on their phones.

"Kids are spending less time doing neighborhood games of basketball, hide and seek, the games we used to play as kids," Bishop told us. "They're just spending more time on cell phones. So as the environment changes, as parents, we have to change as well. And we have to prepare our kids for the environment we're going off to. So ultimately the goal for our camp is to create habits with your child so when they leave you no longer have to be the screen police."

You can learn more about Summerland Camps on their website.

And have you taken steps to cut down on your smartphone use? I would love to hear from you! You can reach out to me on Facebook, on Twitter or email me. I would love to hear your stories about how you have been able to unplug - even if it's just for a bit.