Nearly 3 percent of people who own a smartphone or mobile device use it more than 60 times a day to launch various applications, many connected to social media, according to a new survey by Flurry Analytics that raises questions about whether such chronic use is a form of behavioral addiction. The number of people it defines as “mobile addicts” increased 123 percent last year.
Although not currently categorized as a clinical form of dependency, the practice may be changing some aspects of human interaction in ways that are not favorable. Persistent users of mobile devices report less face-to-face contact with other people. Heavy users may face difficulties in forming and maintaining familial and social relationships.
Earlier this week, the Deseret News analyzed this trend, quoting Salt Lake psychologist Lisa Mountain. “I have younger clients acknowledging that they … don’t know how to connect on a deeper or more personal level because they’re used to doing it superficially through social media or texting,” she said. “It’s very hard to disconnect from that and connect with people on a more personal level.”
A clue to the disconcerting nature of the trend may be found in Sean Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens”: “Listening with just your ears isn't good enough, because only 7 percent of communication is contained in the words we use. The rest comes from body language (53 percent) and how we say words, or the tone and feeling reflected in our voice (40 percent).”
The long-term results of mobile addiction may be hard to fathom. Likewise, there are no easy remedies or prescriptions that might limit or regulate such behavior, other than those that might come about as a result of increased self-awareness.
The Flurry survey found that the number of “regular” users — those who engage in app use less than 16 times a day — grew by 23 percent, to 784 million. The number of “super users” — those who engage in app use between 16 and 60 times a day, grew by 55 percent — to 440 million. It was the number of “addicts,” those who check their phone more than 60 times a day, or four times every waking hour, that grew 123 percent, to 176 million people worldwide.
The heaviest “mobile addicts” are teenagers and college students. People at that age are just forming social relationships. Doing so online is inherently impersonal and potentially isolating.
This data is worthy of continued attention. Smart people will monitor their own behavior, and that of their children, to detect risks of becoming over-indulged in a potential new form of anti-social behavior.