Are smartphones making younger users dependent?

Faith Merino · August 15, 2011 · Short URL:

New Pew study finds younger users more likely to say they couldn't do something without their phone

You know that guy at the party who doesn’t know anyone, so he stands by the food and pretends to be too busy texting to socialize?  (Maybe you’re that guy.  I’ve been that guy before.)  Everyone knows he’s just playing Angry Birds or surfing his Facebook news feed.  Maybe he actually is texting a friend to say “omg this party is sooo boring lol.”  My friends and I have a long-running tradition of texting one another to tell each other “I’m texting you in an awkward social situation.”

Now a new Pew survey confirms what we’ve all known: people pretend to use their phones to avoid social interactions.  To be specific, only 13% of all respondents actually copped to the charge, but this number was significantly higher for uses between the ages of 18 and 29, 30% of whom said they’ve used their phones to deal with awkward social situations.

The survey found that outside of voice calls, 73% of respondents said they use their phones most commonly for text messaging and picture-taking, while 44% say they use their phones for accessing the Internet (the small number likely reflects the limits of smartphone penetration).

When it comes to overall utility, cell phones have proven to be live-savers.  More than half of all respondents said they’ve used their phones at least once to get information they needed immediately, while 40% said they’ve actually found themselves in an emergency situation in which having their phone on-hand helped.  And still another 27% said they’ve found themselves in situations where not having a phone rendered them incapable of getting something done. 

Interestingly (or maybe not), younger users (those ages 18 to 29) were significantly more likely to say they had encountered these situations.  Of those younger respondents, 42% said they’ve had trouble doing something because they didn’t have their phone nearby (compared to 27% of all respondents), 64% said they’ve used their phones to retrieve information they needed immediately, and a full 30% said that they’ve used their phones to avoid unwanted social interaction (compared to 13% of all respondents).

Younger users were also significantly more likely to say they’ve used their phones simply because they were bored: 70% compared to 42% of all adult respondents.

One has to wonder, are advances in mobile technology encouraging complacency in the new generation?  I’ll give you a perfect example: before I got my iPhone, I actually wrote shit down.  When I moved to Brooklyn, NY, I spent the first few weeks carrying around 30 pages of notes, including directions, phone numbers, subway routes, appointments, my birth certificate, social security card, passport, last 6 months’ paycheck stubs, and a box of granola bars.  In retrospect, I was an ideal target for identity theft, but my survival during those early weeks hinged on flawless organization.  True: it was exhausting, but it kept me on my toes.

Not to pull a “when I was a kid, we didn’t HAVE all this newfangled gadgetry,” but it does make me wonder if younger generations are really working smarter and not harder, or if they’re just becoming dependent.  When a full 42% of mobile users under the age of 29 say they were actually unable to do something because they didn’t have their phone, compared to 27% of all adult respondents, one might see that as cause for alarm. 


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