Smartphone adoption rates are surging in 2012. Back in May of this year, analyst firm Nielsen reported that smartphone penetration had surpassed the 50 percent mark here in the United States. And just last month, comScore corroborated those findings.
Ultimately, what this means is more people are seamlessly connected to the online world every single day. Tens of thousands of Americans will likely receive their first smartphone this holiday season. Soon after powering it on for the first time, they will discover how great it is to access Facebook, Twitter, email and the Web from virtually anywhere in the world at any time.
Chances are, many of those converts will have a new found addiction within days or weeks of receiving their very first smartphone. Their eyes will be glued to their iPhone or giant Android phone (or Windows Phone, I guess) and the excitement of the real world will no longer be interesting enough to pull their attention from their smartphone for more than a couple minutes at a time.
It's a phase we all go through when experiencing a new technology for the first time. But some many of us never exit that phase. Our eyes remain glued to the pocket-sized display for hours a day while the world around us is flying by.
Its this relatively new pattern in teens and tweens that is piquing the interests of researchers.
Earlier this morning, phoneArena.com reported that Dr James Roberts of Baylor's Hankamer School of Business commissioned a study on compulsive cell phone usage. The findings were unsurprisingly close to those from similar studies: cell phone addiction is not unlike a substance addiction and, like spending too much time online, can affect relationships and communication skills quite negatively.
One peculiar discovery is that the youth examined for the study checked their phones approximately 60 times and spent upwards of seven hours of total usage per day. These numbers are far lower than what Nokia mentioned at MindTrek in 2010, where it was alleged the average person checks his or her phone 150 times per day, or nine to 10 times per hour. Says Dr. Roberts:
"Mobile phones are a part of our consumer culture. They are not just a consumer tool, but are used as a status symbol. They're also eroding our personal relationships."
"At first glance, one might have the tendency to dismiss such aberrant mobile phone use as merely youthful nonsense - a passing fad. But an emerging body of literature has given increasing credence to cell phone addiction and similar behavioural addictions."
Unfortunately, this isn't a problem that seems to be correcting itself or getting better over time. It's only getting worse. As smartphones play more of an integral part in our daily lives, the dependency on them expands. So does the desire to communicate and socialize. Thus harvests what can eventually turn into a serious addiction.
Most, I would imagine, don't see their day to day cell phone usage as an addiction. But I have watched people compulsively check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter over the course of an hour or two. Most of the time it's by force of habit – they don't even realize they're blocking the rest of the world out.
I went bowling with a friend a few weeks ago and they dug their nose into their phone after each frame. Being just the two of us, it made for a rather boring game until I spoke up. Seemingly, they had no idea how rude or off-putting they were being. I guess it's one of those "everyone is doing it" sort of things.
Recently, I've taken a step back from my mobile usage in "off hours". I still carry both phones everywhere I go. But I check them far less often than I used to. On the flip side, I was bowling again last night (for league) and found myself checking my phone every few minutes. Granted, I've been waiting on some very important news for the better part of a week now and I finally received it as I was leaving the bowling center.
Looking back, I felt a bit regretful that I hadn't spent more time socializing between frames, even if I was only reaching for my phone to check missed notifications at a glance.
So to my question. Has your – or your significant other's – mobile usage negatively affected one (or more) of your relationships?
Knowing what I do for a living, a lot of the blame – especially when it comes to the topic of mobile usage – is placed on me. However, I am almost always conscious of my mobile usage when people are around. I've been through a serious addiction and I've used my phone countless times to squeeze out of awkward situations. But after being on the other side for a while, I realized how it felt – pretty darn awful and awkward. So, through several months of forcing myself to break my habits, I put an end to excessive mobile usage when friends or family is around. I still check Facebook, email or Twitter, but notably less.
To cut to the chase, though, yes. Mobile usage – either mine or the significant other – has affected several of my relationships. I have been on a date and watched a girl text for a solid 15 minutes before realizing where she was and what she was doing. By that time, I had lost interest and had switched to work mode. I've also had a girlfriend text (another guy, no less) while having a serious conversation – I ended that relationship rather abruptly shortly thereafter.
As much of a fan I am of mobile technology, I hate what it does to some people and how some abuse it. It has come between at least what could have been decent or great relationships … or even just friendships. And I'm sure my constant tech banter has turned quite a few potential dates away. But, hey, I love what I love and I have the amazing opportunity to exercise my passion through my work. If they can't deal with that … they're missing the point.
C'est la vie, I suppose.
Tell me, readers. Has mobile usage (either his or hers) negatively affected your relationship? More than once? On the other hand, what about a positive effect? Share your stories below!