I’ve seen far too many people get aggressively honked at as they absentmindedly wandered onto a busy street without looking up. The culprit? That little device in the palm of their hand, consuming their attention: their phone.
Judging from all the people on sidewalks and buses with their eyes glued to the screen, it might seem like our collective attachment to mobile devices is only getting worse.
But some people are trying to break their addiction.
Nearly half of Americans surveyed by Deloitte are making a conscious effort to reduce or limit their phone usage, according to the consulting firm’s 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey, released Wednesday. The study is based on responses from more than 51,000 people between the ages of 18 and 75 in 32 countries. In the US, 2,000 people were surveyed.
Some people in the States are keeping their device out of sight or are turning off certain functions, such as audio notifications, according to Dan Littmann, principal in technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte and an author of the study. Others are even turning off the phone altogether before they go to bed so they won’t be tempted to check it in the middle of the night.
The notion that people are trying to spend less time on the phone runs counter to the general belief that the mobile phone is sucking up our lives. Glancing around a crowded bus or a restaurant usually reveals several people consumed by a device, oblivious to what’s happening around them. An Intel Security study last year reported that 55 percent of vacationers who planned to unplug from their digital devices just couldn’t do it.
Perhaps we’ve come to a turning point.
“There’s this recognition we’ve kind of reached our peak, and now it’s a matter of competing for consumers’ eyeballs and attention and time — not necessarily expanding how much they’re going to be looking at their phone,” Littmann said.
It’s hard to dismiss the impact of the smartphone, which has become one of the fastest adopted consumer technologies in modern history. Around three-quarters of American adults own a smartphone, according to Pew, an increase of 35 percent from 2011. Smartphone ownership continues to grow, though it’s slowing, given that most people already have one. According to Deloitte, 82 percent of people in the States own a phone, up from 77 percent last year.
Phone and app makers aren’t going to make it easy to pare back your phone time.
“What you’ll see is more innovation both on devices [and] on applications that are finding creative ways to capture people’s attention,” Littmann said. “I expect that innovation also to address ways to be less obtrusive in people’s daily lives.”
None of this means we’re not still obsessed with the phone. Each of us checks ours nearly 47 times a day, Deloitte said. But that number’s remained fairly constant for the past three years. The exception is for people between the ages of 18 and 24, who check the phone 86 times a day, up from 82 times in 2016.
Nearly half of us even wake up in the middle of the night to check the phone.
Some of our other habits have also plateaued: 89 percent of us look at our phone within an hour of waking up, an increase of only 1 percent from last year. Additionally, 81 percent of us look at our phone an hour before going to sleep, a number that’s remained constant from 2016.
But will people actually stick to their intention to avoid their phones?
“I don’t think we’ve seen any indications that people are limiting the time they spend on their phones right now,” Littman said. “We’ve just seen a stabilization of it.”
I’ll be looking to see whether people actually start making eye contact. I’d be happy if they’d just look up before colliding with each other.
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