Smartphone 'addiction' increasingly seen as problem by consumers

20 October 2017 5 min. read
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The steady permeation of smartphone use into almost every functionality of daily life may be impairing consumers’ ability to concentrate, particularly in the case of younger users. Further competition by developers and manufacturers is meanwhile likely to see the devices become ever more pervasive, raising concerns about the impact of the overuse of mobile phones on both mental and physical health.

85% of the UK population own a smartphone. While such devices have obvious utility, with map functions and internet on the go, they may also have a host of downsides – with heavy-users often succumbing to distraction, poor sleep patterns, poor posture, and reduced attention spans among other symptoms.

In a new report from Deloitte, titled ‘State of the Smart’, the consulting firm explores the concerns that users have with regard to their use of the devices. The report is based on a poll of 3525 consumers across the full age spectrum, based in the UK.

As a result of fierce competition in the sector, phone and application designers may be over-producing new innovative products and services. While these are designed for the increased comfort of users, they are resulting in behaviours that are not good for the mental or physical health by nature of their rapid evolution. They are potentially also negatively affecting work and personal relationships.

Too much mobile phone use

The survey found that 39% of users think that they are using their mobile phone too often. This was especially typical of younger respondents aged between 16-25, as well as those aged between 25-34,  with 56% and 55% of respondents concerned about their level of use.

19% of those between 16-24 look at their smartphone at least 100 times per day; while 12% look more than 200 times. Smartphones also tend to be picked up by 34% of UK respondents within five minutes of waking up, and by 55% within an hour after waking up.

One of the more concerning results suggested that as many as 78% of users look at the screen within the hour prior to sleeping, exposing them to blue light, which has a negative impact on sleep. Two thirds of young people, 16-24 year olds, check their phones during the night – which, given the need for their bodies to sleep, may have negative developmental effects from lack of adequate sleep. Other areas of concern include the use of mobile phones while walking, with 11% of respondents saying that they use them while crossing the road, while 53% do so while walking in general.

Overuse context

This perpetual attachment of users to their screens may well be built in part by the relentless intrusion of smartphone software. Intrusive push notifications and buzzes have built the technology increasingly into everyday activities. When asked in which situations they believed they used mobile phones too often, 40% said ‘all the time’, followed by 31% that said ‘at night’. A range of respondents also noted ‘when with family’ (34%), ‘at the weekends’ (16%), ‘when with friends’ (15%), and ‘at work / school’ (13%).

Teenagers appeared to be the most affected by how smart phones are designed to illicit responses from them – with 90 checks on average per day according to this survey. Their almost universal adoption (92% own such a device) and their consistent use at all hours (66% use it during the night) has resulted in 68% of the group being designated as ‘using the phone too much’.

The survey also asked whether people thought that others used their phones too much; parents (60%), in particular, thought that their children ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ use their phone too much, while 41% said that they believe their partner uses their phone too often.

Negative impacts

The research suggests that users are increasingly finding themselves in a vicious cycle, with decreasing attention spans leading to addiction-like habit formation, which in turn feeds back into further overuse and a double bind. Given the relatively high levels of distraction, and the interest from companies for the creation of attention seeking applications (they get more revenues), regulators may step in to limit or change how the devices and application can be or ought to be used. Questions pertaining to the actual benefits of the devices on the lives of young people may also be asked – particularly as companies create products and services that only coincidentally benefit users, while actually aiming to maximise business outcomes.

Paul Lee, Head of Research for Technology, Media and Telecoms at Deloitte, commented, “With every year the smartphone is becoming easier and more enticing to use. The question is: are we at the point at which smartphones have become almost too good for people to cope with, and if so, what remedies might be required? Interestingly, the steps that people are taking to control smartphone usage have a common theme: removing temptation.”

In 2016, around 49% of e-commerce transactions involved a smartphone, which is expected to increase to more than 80% by 2020. While meeting customer expectations on their smartphones is becoming increasingly important, the intrusion of smartphone technology into all aspects of life looks set to be fostered by retailers in particular in coming years, with the platform providing a lucrative market for the sector.