Are you addicted to Apple iPhone’s ubiquitous apps?

Are you addicted to Apple iPhone’s ubiquitous apps?

By Mary Brophy Marcus, USA TODAY
Oct. 2009

Most people start their day with a cup of
coffee, a shower, a good stretch. Beth Akins rolls over, grabs her
iPhone and fires up Shake & Spell, her favorite iPhone app game.

Beth Akins, 54, of Louisville is on a teleconference call with sister Richey Belonger, 51, of Athens, Ga., as they play Shake & Spell on their iPhones while working at home. Apple announced last week that more than 2 billion apps have been downloaded from its App Store in just over a year.Beth Akins, 54, of Louisville is on
a teleconference call with sister Richey Belonger, 51, of Athens, Ga.,
as they play Shake & Spell on their iPhones while working at home.
Apple announced last week that more than 2 billion apps have been
downloaded from its App Store in just over a year.

"I usually play before I even get out of bed,"
says Akins, 54, of Louisville, who says a day without Shake & Spell
leaves her with feelings of withdrawal. "I play every day."

Apps is short for computer maker Apple’s
applications, and it refers to the scores of games and services that
iPhone or iPod touch owners can download and interact with. There are
85,000 different apps for Akins and the other 50 million users around
the world.

Apps and your health

People may wonder what the iPhone apps obsession
is driven by as they witness "i" users strolling down work hallways and
streets "apping" and bumping into others. And what about all those
children seen manically poking away at their parents’ iPhone games in
doctors’ offices and cashier lines across the country? What is app
addiction doing to people’s health?

"Clearly, the reward circuitry in the brain is
getting something out of it," says Marina Picciotto, professor of
psychiatry, neurobiology and pharmacology at Yale University.

She says there is no research on the impact of apps on health yet.

"Obviously, what it’s doing to our health, it’s
too early to tell. There are a few parallels we can make from other
addictions, like compulsive shopping. The consequences can be bad —
credit debt, time lost."

One attraction: Apps are cheap (sometimes free), and the payback is fast.

There are apps that can help you avoid traffic
jams, one that walks you through the steps of making a perfect latte,
and another that tracks flu outbreaks. There are sports apps galore and
scores of games.

Anish Acharya, 30, co-founder of socialDeck, the
company that invented Akin’s beloved Shake & Spell, a Boggle-like
game in which the goal is to shake up 16 little squares with letters
and then spell as many words as possible in three minutes, says the
draw can be a combination of social and competitive rewards.

"For some people it’s just about winning and
getting to the top of the leader board. For others it’s an interaction
with a stranger," he says. "And for others, it’s just about killing 10
minutes in the line at the butcher’s shop."

For Akins, her app obsession keeps her connected
with her sister, who is homebound in Athens, Ga., waiting for a lung
transplant. "She can’t travel, so I bought her an iPhone so she could
play with me," Akins says.

Are they taking over?

Though some research suggests playing brain
games can boost cognitive power, the downside of app overuse can
include the time it takes away from family, friends, tasks such as
getting your children to school on time, and health needs such as
sleeping, Picciotto says.

Users should keep tabs on whether apps are
taking over their real lives, says Hilarie Cash, a psychotherapist and
co-founder of reStart, a Fall City, Wash.-based Internet-addiction
recovery center that opened this summer and is the first of its kind.

"If you are spending two hours or more a day
engaged with your digital equipment and it’s not for work- or
homework-related reasons, then you’ve got cause for alarm," Cash says.

Jim Sun, 47, a father of four from Anaheim,
Calif., has downloaded about 60 apps to his iPod touch. They’ve
replaced TV and some family time, Sun says, "and definitely sleep."

Over-apping may overwhelm the brain, says Gary Small, author of iBrain and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

"When we’re constantly scanning the environment,
waiting for the next bit of info from our devices, I think it puts our
brain into a stressful state, and stress is not good for the brain,"
Small says.

The body’s in play, too

App abuse can have purely physical repercussions, too, such as carpal tunnel from repetitive hand movements, Picciotto says.

Akins says her neck aches after too many games in a row.

Parents rave about how handy an app game is when
kids get fidgety, but there’s no research yet on whether some of the
content might be inappropriate for children, Picciotto says.

Bert Vabre, 45, of Oakland, N.J., has downloaded
about 50 apps, from financial services to sports to games for his kids.
"My son likes iMafia. He probably shouldn’t be playing that one," Vabre
says with a chuckle.

And what happens to app addicts when an iPhone
accidentally falls into a puddle or is left behind? One online
commenter recently posted on MacRumors that he went to lunch without
the device and felt naked.

Small says withdrawal feelings suggest dopamine receptors in the brain aren’t getting their fix.

Maybe someone will come up with an app for what to do when you forget your iPhone.

 

 

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