March 13, 2012

Slave to your smart phone? There's an app for that.

A friend shared this article on the Schumpeter blog in The Economist the other day and it discusses a scary truth: We're a society addicted to our phones. 

Ofcom, Britain’s telecommunications regulator, says that a startling 60% of teenagers who use smartphones describe themselves as “highly addicted” to their devices. So do 37% of adults.  This infographic shows some interesting statistics on the use of cell phones around the world. (FYI: 15% of Americans answer their phone during sex...)
We joke about feeling anxious when forgetting our phones at home; feeling a 'phantom ringing' in our pockets or just being lost without it...but come to think of it, it's pretty crazy. Have you ever avoided an awkward situation by checking your phone? I know I have and I'm definitely not the only one. 

I have a love hate relationship with my Blackberry. Besides the fact that it's an outdated piece of junk, my phone is my constant companion and a source of comfort (Though I hate phone noises and it's constantly on silent, much to everyone's annoyance) But it's always with me; the last thing I see before I go to sleep and the first thing I check when I wake up...A big part of this 'hyperconnective' addiction for me is having friends and family all over the place; online interaction is the easiest way to keep in touch & keep up with them across different time zones. I feel like I'm missing out on a virtual party if I don't check Facebook, my email, news websites, Twitter, blogs daily...

Here are some interesting facts I picked out from the article:

  • When Martin Lindstrom, a branding guru, tried to identify the ten sounds that affect people most powerfully, he found that a vibrating phone came third, after the Intel chime and a giggling baby.
  • Hyperconnectivity exaggerates some of the most destabilising trends in the modern workplace: the decline of certainty (as organisations abandon bureaucracy in favour of adhocracy), the rise of global supply chains and the general cult of flexibility.
  • Several studies have shown what ought to be common sense: that people think more deeply if they are not constantly distracted.

Dinner table conversations are interrupted by people checking their phones, sometimes tweeting about what a great conversation they're not having. Incessantly checking your phone is a pet peeve of mine; 5 years ago, if you were having a conversation with someone and they suddenly interrupted you by getting up and walking off, it would have been considered a bit rude, right? I think it's the same with smart phones; you're interrupting a conversation and diverting your attention elsewhere by checking your phone for the latest Facebook updates. It's usually not important enough to warrant such an interruption; let's be serious, you're not going to miss that much online. Or maybe what is being discussed is simply not interesting enough for you.

Yet there are no rules when it comes to having your phone at the dinner table. Some friends find it annoying to have your phone resting upside down on the table, others use theirs constantly whilst some leave theirs in their pockets. Where's the book on etiquette in the new age??

Luckily, there are ways to outsmart our smart phones. The Boston Consulting Group, learned to manage hyperconnectivity better. The firm introduced rules about when people were expected to be offline, and encouraged them to work together to make this possible. Many macho consultants mocked the exercise at first—surely only wimps switch off their smartphones? But eventually it forced people to work more productively while reducing burnout.

Battling the problem can also be a lot of fun. Last year, Times Square featured urban furniture installations called 'Meeting Bowls' for friends and even strangers to turn off their phones and chat! It promoted dialogue and good old fashioned friendliness in the Big Apple

Banning browsing before breakfast can reintroduce a modicum of civilisation. Banning texting at weekends or, say, on Thursdays, can really show the iPhone who is boss. 

Another way of doing this is by banning phones at the dinner table. It works at my Mum's house and we have great conversations, just like old times. What's easier is just insisting that you turn yours off from time to time.

I could go on and on with this discussion...but I'd rather do it in person. There's SO much to be said about the social, psychological, mental and physical affects of smart phone addiction. It's not all bad either, I think we just need to re adjust the balance between virtual and reality.

Just as the abundance of junk food means that people have to be more disciplined about their eating habits, so the abundance of junk information means they have to be more disciplined about their browsing habits.



  1. this is a really interesting post -- thanks for sharing. i would probably consider myself lost without my iPhone, which is quite sad. i should pay more attention to my addiction and switch it off every once in a while! xx

  2. I'm not so much addicted to my smartphone [anymore] since we moved to Germany. In fact, here I have a 3 EUR phone that calls and texts and that's it. I don't care if I leave the house without it, and to be perfectly honest, I'm actually pretty happy that I don't have my iPhone around all the time.
    I am, however, pretty addicted to my computer. It doesn't help that a lot of my work is done on the computer, but even so, I can't go a day without getting on a social media site of some kind.