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Smartphones: are we addicted?

Smartphones: are we addicted?

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently undertook an extensive study that looked at the widespread use of connected devices such as smartphones and tablets, with some observers worried that the UK is becoming increasingly ‘wedded’ to technology.

It was found that the average smartphone owner uses their device 34 times – comprising around 130 minutes – every day. The survey results were put together using data collected through more than 1,350 interviews with smartphone users.

Discussing the findings’ implications, the University of East Anglia’s Dr Simon Hampton, who is a lecturer in psychology, said:

“People’s inability to leave their phones alone is the newest addition to common ‘displacement’ behaviours such as smoking, doodling, fiddling with objects and picking at food. It’s also an extension of ‘nomophobia’ – the fear of being without your mobile.”

While there are, of course, certain similarities between constantly turning to a smartphone and habits such as smoking or fiddling, it could easily be argued that not all instances of frequent smartphone use should be categorised as emerging from habit.

With tech giants, global brands and indie developers releasing and updating apps so regularly, and news vendors across the board providing quality written and video content, it’s not surprising that people are always on their phones.

Compare the smartphone, for example, to the traditional newspaper or printed book. On a long train or bus commute, people would typically pick up a paper or bring along whatever novel they’re reading to pass the time on the trip. Now, people have all of that in one place – the smartphone. It serves the same purpose.

Apps with newsfeeds on a host of topics can be downloaded, and with many websites recognising the advantages of responsive design, most pages on a browser are accessible via a smaller screen. Additionally, most devices have the ability to display e-books.

Speaking further about the results of the IAB study, Dr Hampton said:

“Rather than do nothing we’re compelled to turn to them for reassuring comfort.”

Have people ever been content to simply ‘do nothing’? What’s not to say that our forebears, given the opportunity, wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to regularly use a smartphone – to catch up on the latest news regarding politics or the sciences, engage in a meaningful debate or read the classics?

The IAB’s strategy and research director, Tim Elkington, pointed to the diverse range of uses people have nowadays for connected devices:

“[We] saw a broad pattern in how people use their devices; the morning is about getting information such as weather and travel, the afternoon for undertaking specific tasks such as banking or paying bills, while the evening is focused on entertainment, including shopping.”

While it’s clear that not everyone uses their smartphone to further their knowledge of the world or read quality content, the same is true on the opposite end of the spectrum – not everyone unlocks their device simply out of habit, mindlessly thumbing through newsfeeds filled only with the banal gossip of people they knew in secondary school.

In other words, frequency of use doesn’t necessarily equate to addiction. Smartphones’ popularity extends not from habit but from convenience. What would be the point of listening to the radio for the weather, heading to the high street for banking or reading the paper for the news if it can all be done at our fingertips?

Richard Bell

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