The Digital Thief: How Smartphones Are Robbing Us!

The Digital Thief: How Smartphones Are Robbing Us!

Our moms were right about the smart phones!

Have you ever wondered how many years of your life you'll spend staring at a screen? It's a sobering question, that I have been thinking about since this year started. Hence, I have been researching on this very topic and I truly believe the question is worth asking as we confront the silent pandemic of smartphone addiction. In this post, we'll explore the alarming statistics (thanks to all the researchers), the impact on our lives, for me it started with productivity, but the impact is more than just productivity, and provide a simple formula to help you calculate your own "screen time lifespan."

A Crisis of Distraction

The average 18-year-old in the U.S. is on track to spend a staggering 93% of their remaining free time staring at a screen. Imagine reaching the age of 90 and reflecting on a life dominated by digital distraction, missing out on real-world experiences, relationships, and personal growth. This isn't just about wasted time; it's about missed opportunities to shape who we become.

This image is fromDino Ambrosi's*Ted talk\**:*** The Battle for Your Time: Exposing the Costs of Social Media.

Here is where my mind was blown, if you take away Sleep, Work + School, Cooking/Eating and Bathroom away, an average 18 year old is going to have 334 months left as free time, given they live up to 90 years, out of which they are going to spend 312 months looking at screen!

The Cognitive Cost

Our brains are being rewired by the constant bombardment of short-form content and rapid-fire information. With the rise of TikTok, IG reel and YouTube Shorts, we're training ourselves to be chronically distracted, sacrificing our ability to focus, think deeply, and engage meaningfully with the world around us. This has serious implications for our careers, relationships, and overall well-being.

The Social Media Mirage

Social media platforms aren't just addictive; they subtly shape our values and beliefs. They tell us that our worth is tied to appearances, that relationships are about frequency over depth, and that complex issues can be reduced to sound bites. That's why we call them social media influencers, because they influence us. In contrast, technologies like books and letters encourage empathy, deep thought, and meaningful connection.

Paying with Our Lives

Is Social media FREE? No, Social media companies profit from our attention. We may not pay a monetary fee, but we pay dearly with our time, the most valuable resource we have. By understanding this dynamic, we can start to make more conscious choices about how we spend our digital hours.

The Unseen Addiction

While we grapple with the broader implications of screen time, the addiction itself remains largely unacknowledged. Within a mere 15 years, an astonishing 97% of Americans own a smartphone, and surveys indicate that roughly half feel addicted. American teens spend an average of nine hours a day on their phones, a significant portion of their waking lives.

Your Smartphone: A Dopamine Dealer

Smartphones are designed to trigger dopamine release through notifications, likes, and endless scrolling. This creates a cycle of craving and reward, making it hard to put the phone down.

Social media dopamin loop

This is image is from Macit, Hüseyin & Macit, Gamze & Güngör, Orhan. (2019). A Research On Social Media Addiction and Dopamine Driven Feedback. 5. 882-897.

The Cost of Connectivity

This addiction comes at a steep price. Research has linked excessive smartphone use to various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. Moreover, it's eroding our productivity, focus, and creativity. We're constantly distracted, interrupting deep work with a quick glance at our screens.

Read this great research by Sarhan AL: The relationship of smartphone addiction with depression, anxiety, and stress among medical students. SAGE Open Med. 2024 Feb 2;12:20503121241227367. doi: 10.1177/20503121241227367. PMID: 38313469; PMCID: PMC10838039..)

The Super Addiction

Smartphones are particularly insidious because they combine multiple addictive elements:

  • Unlimited access: They're always in our pockets, available 24/7.

  • Instant gratification: We get immediate rewards from likes, comments, and new content.

  • Constant novelty: Apps are continuously updated to keep us engaged, with new ones like TikTok rapidly taking over entire generations.

  • Social acceptance: It's the norm to be glued to our phones, making it harder to recognize the problem.

Calculate Your Screen Time Lifespan

Want to know how much of your life you might spend on screens? Try this simple formula:

(Daily Screen Time in Hours / 24) x (90 - Current Age) = Years Spent on Screens

For example:

If you're 30 years old, have a life expectancy of 90, and spend 5 hours a day on your phone screen:

(5 / 24) x (90 - 30) = 12.5 years on phone screen.

But wait, this number is still wrong, and it's probably going to be more than this, did you notice I am using 24 hours, so if you incorporate basic life tasks, like sleep, cooking, eating, etc, we have less than 24 hours in the day. To keep things simple, I am just going to subtract 8 hours of sleep from the day, which gives us:

(Daily Screen Time in Hours / 16) x (90 - Current Age) = Years Spent on Screens

(5 / 16) x (90 - 30) = 18.75 years on screens.

Again, this still an approximation but you get the idea, 18 years scrolling through endless reels/shorts! (at least most of it!)

Breaking Free: Steps Towards a Healthier Relationship

Most smartphones these days has Screen Time analytics, both iOS and Android have these features. Since I have an iOS device, I will be showing you how I have setup limits on some of the apps. And yes, if you want you can uninstall them too, but what I have found is, I still use some of these platforms to stay connected with my friends and family. Because the idea is to use the apps and not let these apps use us. I use them as Social Media apps not as doom scrolling apps.

There are two ways you can limit the screen time for these apps:
You can group them together, so let's say you want to limit TikTok, IG and X/Twitter usage to complete 30 minutes/day.

Or you can set individuals limits for each app, like in this example I have 30 minutes/day for each app: TikTok, IG and X/Twitter.

Again, make sure you don't get discourage by looking at the total hours, as applications like WhatsApp and Signal also come under the social umbrella (at least on iOS), which I use to connect: call and chat with my family and friends.

Again, the goal is to limit screen-time that is not valuable, talking to my mom on video chat is still very valuable to me!

So, keep these points in mind:

  1. Limit screen time: Use apps to set boundaries and stick to them.

  2. Digital detox: Schedule regular breaks from your phone, especially before bed.

  3. Mindful usage: Pay attention to how your phone makes you feel and use it intentionally.


Smartphone addiction is not just about lost productivity; it's about losing ourselves in a digital world that's designed to keep us hooked. By recognizing the true cost of our screen time, we can make conscious choices to reclaim our time, attention, and lives.

Call to Action:

  • Calculate your screen time lifespan: How many years will you spend on screens?

  • Share this post with friends and family to raise awareness.

  • Track your screen time and set goals for reducing it.

This blog post has a lot of references to research papers and also some talks. Please watch them.