Have you ever checked your e-mail while walking, surfed the web during a movie, or updated your Facebook page while sitting opposite friends in a bar or restaurant? If so, you're probably addicted to your smartphone - as if you didn't know already - but how about the iPad?
There's anecdotal evidence that tablet owners are going the same way, with overuse threatening both health and relationships. It could be a particular problem in the coming years in Hong Kong and Asia in general, with use of tablets increasing in offices, homes and schools amid a decidedly 'left brain', tech-friendly culture. A rumoured low-cost, seven-inch iPad mini could make tablets so ubiquitous that soon we could all be asking ourselves: 'Am I using my tablet properly, or is it using me?' Here are 10 signs you may be hooked.
You panic when you realise you've left your iPad at home and go back for it
While most people enjoy their iPad and use them sparingly, over-users can experience feelings of loss when separated from their beloved tablets.
'We all have a degree of dependence on smartphones, but the iPad has made it worse,' says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, an e-ddiction, sleep and energy therapist at London's Capio Nightingale Hospital and author of Tired but Wired. 'With teenagers it's becoming a big problem. I saw a 16-year-old with sleep problems who simply could not put her iPad down. She spends a lot of time in bed, watching films and browsing, and it's her constant companion.'
You buy e-books to read on your iPad, and wouldn't dream of picking up a paperback
It may be convenient, but staring at an LCD screen can not only interrupt sleep patterns, but reduces adaptability. 'A lot of iPad users become very dependent on taking in information in a certain way, and they can't read books any more; they can't concentrate,' says Ramlakhan.
You have breakfast with your family, but you're paying attention only to your tablet
The boundaries between work and home life have become so blurred, and that's largely down to gadgets like this. 'Is the ability to send and receive e-mail at any time a good thing?' asks Ramlakhan. 'We need to have a degree of compartmentalisation in our lives to protect our energy and sanity, and enable us to engage in the present moment. So when you're with your family having breakfast, that's exactly what you should be doing. There's a need to return to old-fashioned values and principles.'
You take your iPad to bed, but wake up lacking energy
'Protecting the quality of your sleep requires healthy boundaries,' says Ramlakhan, who recommends spending at least 90 minutes before bedtime away from technology. It's not just interrupted sleep that can affect tablet users. Repetitive strain injuries in the hands, fingers, neck and even knees are common.
You bought the most expensive tablet model around, and plan to upgrade it every time a new model is launched
Obsessing over technical details such as the latest 64GB hard drive, the camera's resolution or the pixels in the screen can be a symptom of addiction. Spending or borrowing money just to get the latest model falls into this category.
Each evening you and your partner sit on the sofa or in bed, each with tablet in hand
If you're watching different television channels or movies, or playing separate games, you're not interacting as you used to. 'It's that interaction that's absolutely key to who we are,' says Ramlakhan. 'We're swapping one type of connection for a different type, and the technology connection isn't bringing us closer together.'
You constantly download apps, show them to friends and never use them again
The phrase 'I've got a great new app' is often a request for validation from others. 'The highest-spending 3 per cent of all app users account for nearly 20 per cent of the total spend, while over 70 per cent of tablet users spend nothing or very little,' says Aapo Markkanen, senior analyst at ABI Research. The most popular apps are either games that have a string of in-app purchases, or utility apps for business.
You won't go on holiday without it Does leaving your iPad behind make you panicky? Even if a complete technology detox isn't practical, using your smartphone or tablet sparingly can rejuvenate and help you recover from work stress.
You interrupt conversations with friends and colleagues with 'Why don't we ask the iPad?'
We all do this occasionally, but if you start to rely on your tablet to store or recall everyday information, then you could be harming your long-term memory capacity. 'Some theorise that it's freeing up space to store other information,' says Ramlakhan. 'But there's evidence that the brain doesn't become more discerning when presented with several different choices or bits of data, and instead takes the first thing that comes in - or the last thing you've looked at.'
Your best friend is your iPad
'There's a habituation process at work [in tablet addicts] that starts to replace normal friendships and relationships,' says Ramlakhan. 'Some people are becoming very emotionally cut-off because they're getting so used to interacting in a certain way that they lose access to the emotional part of the brain. How they feel about their iPad starts to feel like a normal relationship.'
The tablet can present an easy escape mechanism for more susceptible users. 'We're looking at a certain type of personality that's more likely to get hooked because they have a loss of balance elsewhere in their lives,' says Ramlakhan.